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   Chapter 2 A MEETING AT THE NIPA BARRACKS

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 18068

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It was only for a moment.

Then, without answering Hal's remark, the Filipino clutched at the white man's arm, shoving him out into the rain. The native followed.

Just then a cochero with an empty quilez drove up. With instant presence of mind Vicente Tomba, as the dandy had called himself, held up his hand.

It was all done in an instant, and native and white friend were driving away through the gusts of rain.

"Wonder who our friends are?" Noll remarked curiously.

"We know that one of them calls himself Vicente Tomba," replied Sergeant Hal.

"But he spoke of having us picked out for something, and he seemed almost peevish because we didn't suit him," smiled Noll.

"I can't imagine what it is," replied Hal, undisturbed. "It couldn't be anything in the high treason line, anyway."

"Why not even that?" demanded Sergeant Noll.

"Why, look here, old fellow, we're just two plain, kid, doughboy sergeants of the line. If that fellow had wanted anything in the treasonable variety, what sort of goods could we deliver him, anyway? Nothing, much, beyond our own arms and a copy of the company's roll."

"Then what on earth was the fellow up to, anyway?"

"I don't know, Noll, and I don't much care. I've heard that there are sharks of all sorts here in Manila, ready to put up all sorts of games to get the easy-mark soldier's pay away from him. Probably Tomba and his friend belong in that class."

"Pooh! Tomba has plenty of money," snorted Noll Terry. "He wouldn't have to be out for a poor, buck-foot soldier's pay."

"Swindlers sometimes do have plenty of money, for a while, until the law rounds them up and puts them where they ought to be," observed Sergeant Hal sagely. "Let's forget the fellow, Noll, unless we see him again. Tomba is evidently up to something crooked, and we're not, so we haven't any real interest in him, have we?"

"Except to be on our guard," said Noll.

"You speak as though you had some forebodings regarding Tomba, or Tomba and his friend," smiled Hal quizzically.

"Well, then, I have," returned Noll Terry.

"Not scared, are you?"

"That's a fine question to ask a soldier," sniffed Noll.

"Well, I'm not going to waste any more thoughts on Tomba, or on his white-man companion, either. Whee! Look at that rain. It--"

But a fearfully vivid flash of tropical lightning caused Sergeant Hal Overton to step further back into the little shed and close his eyes for an instant. Right after the flash came a prolonged, heavy roll of thunder that made the earth shake.

"Cochero, para!" shouted Noll right after that, and a fareless quilez stopped near the door of the shed.

"Occupado (occupied)?" called Noll.

"No, se?or."

Hal and Noll bolted through the rain, darted into the quilez through the door at the rear, and plumped themselves down on the seats.

"Sigue directio, Malate, cuartel nipa," ordered Hal, thus instructing the driver to go straight ahead to Malate and to take them to the nipa barracks.

The Filipino driver himself was drenched. In his thin cotton clothing the little brown man perched on the box outside, shivered until his teeth chattered. He did not propose, however, to let personal discomfort stop him from earning a fare.

Around the Walled City (Old Manila) the quilez carried the young soldiers. These massive walls, centuries old, enclose perhaps a square mile of city. Once past the Walled City the little vehicle glided on through pretty Ermita. Here, passing along Calle Real (Royal Street), the driver turned into the straight stretch for the next suburb, Malate.

For months before sailing for the Philippines both young sergeants had devoted a good deal of their spare time to the study of Spanish. They had, however, learned the best Spanish of old Castile. First Sergeant Gray, who had put in three terms of service in the Philippines, had taken pains to teach them much of the local Spanish dialect as it is spoken in this far-away colony of Uncle Sam's.

To-day the Filipino children speak English rather well and musically, for English is the language of the public schools of the islands. Many of the older natives, however, even those with English-speaking children, know only a few words at most of the tongue of the Americanos.

By the time that the little cab turned in at the barracks grounds much of the fury of the storm had passed. The rain, however, continued at a steady downpour, and seemed good for the night.

"We may have to be campaigning in this kind of weather in another fortnight," remarked Hal.

"Fine business," commented Noll dryly.

"Well, it all goes in the life of a soldier. It can't hurt the soldier much, either, for somehow he's healthier than fellows who clerk or work in machine shops."

"Clerking? Shops?" repeated Noll, with a smile of mild disgust. "Did we ever stand that sort of life, Hal?"

"Once upon a time, Noll."

"Thank goodness that day has gone by."

"Here we are," announced Sergeant Hal, reaching for the rear door and opening it. "I'll pay the cochero this time, Noll; you paid for our last ride."

On the broad veranda of the barracks, well out of the rain, lounged half a hundred of the men of the Thirty-fourth. A few of them were at tables writing home letters.

"Did you give my regards to the Escolta, Sergeant?" called Private Kelly, from one of the groups.

"I didn't forget you, Kelly," laughed Hal.

"Get those picture post cards for me?" called Corporal Hyman.

"Here you are, Hyman," responded Noll, opening his blouse and exploring an inner pocket. "I hope I haven't got them too wet, and that the views will suit."

"Any views will suit," retorted Hyman. "My kid brothers and cousins have never been out here and one view will please them as well as another."

A few more soldiers came forward to ask about errands that the young sergeants had undertaken. No one's commissions had been forgotten.

"Your leave didn't do you two so much good this afternoon," grinned Corporal Hyman.

"Why not?" Sergeant Overton wanted to know.

"On account of the weather we didn't have parade, anyway."

"I'm no parade shirker," retorted Hal. "On the busiest day we're not being overworked here. We may strike something hard in the tropics yet, but so far, since reaching Manila, the men of this regiment haven't been worked more than a quarter as hard as in barracks at home. But I wonder when we go south?"

"Haven't you heard?" asked Corporal Hyman.

"Not a word," Hal declared.

"I haven't, either. But we heard that the 'Warren' came in this afternoon."

The "Warren" was the United States Army transport vessel that was much used in carrying troops between the different islands.

"We ought to be under way soon, then," Hal replied thoughtfully. "I suppose we're still slated to go down among the Moros."

"That's the talk in the regiment, anyway," replied Corporal Hyman.

"I hope it's true."

"You're one of the few that does, then," retorted Hyman, with a grimace. "In these islands the real fine place for a regiment to be stationed is right here on the outskirts of Manila. Plenty of grub, kitchen-cooked; little work to do, and no danger of anything except guard duty to call us out of our bunks."

"That's altogether too lazy for a soldier," objected Hal, with spirit. "I don't want to see any trouble start in these islands, but if there's going to be any campaigning, I want to see the Thirty-fourth right in the thick of it."

"You'll get over that, by and by, Sergeant," responded Corporal Hyman. "More than half of the fellows in the Thirty-fourth have been out here in other years, and have seen plenty of fighting. Now, getting shot at by a lot of strangers is all right enough for a soldier when it has to be done; but you'll find that the older men in this regiment are not doing any praying that 'Ours' will get more than its share of fighting."

"Perhaps I won't, when I've seen as much fighting as some of you fellows have," Hal nodded. "I've never been in a real battle yet."

"You've been under stiff enough fire, right back in the good old Rocky Mountains," retorted Corporal Hyman. "You don't need any more by way of training."

"Perhaps not; but I want it, just the same. I'm a hog, ain't I?" laughed the boyish young sergeant.

"No; you're simply a kid soldier," grumbled Hyman. "All the kids want a heap of fighting-until after they've had it. When you've been with the colors a few years longer you'll be ready to agree that three 'squares' a day and a soft bed at night are miles and miles ahead of desperate charges or last-ditch business."

"So the 'Warren' is in port from her last trip south," Hal went on. "Oh, I wonder when we start."

"So do a lot of us," retorted Private Kelly. "But we hope it won't be soon, Sarge."

"Oh, you coffee-coolers!" taunted Hal good-naturedly.

The Army "coffee-cooler" is the man who is left behind in stirring times. Uncle Sam's soldiers explain that a coffee-cooler is a man who won't go forward,

in the morning, until his coffee is cool enough for him to drink it with comfort. Hence a coffee-cooler is a man who is detailed on work at the rear of the fighting line simply because he is of no earthly use at the front.

It is not as bad, however, to be a coffee-cooler as a cold-foot. A "cold-foot" is a soldier paralyzed with terror; he is worse than useless anywhere in the Army. The cold-foot is ironically asked why he didn't bring his woolen socks along. If a cold-foot gets into deadly action it is said that the cold chills chase each other down his spine and all settle in his feet, so that he is frozen in his tracks. However, a soldier who betrays cowardice in the face of the enemy may be shot for his cowardice, for which reason "cold feet" sometimes become cold for all time to come.

Soldiers there have been who have shown "cold feet" in their first battle or two, and yet have been among the best of soldiers later on. But the cold-foot is a rarity, anyway, among the regulars.

"Hello," broke in Kelly, peering out through the rain, "there goes some good fellow to the rainmakers."

Many of the other soldiers looked. Two hospital-corps men were carrying a stretcher in the direction of the post hospital. None could make out, however, who was on the stretcher, as, owing to the downpour of rain, the unfortunate one was covered with three or four rubber ponchos.

"I hope none of our good fellows is badly hurt," broke in Sergeant Noll Terry.

"Rheumatism, most likely," grunted Corporal Hyman. "Did you ever see a country where the rain fell as steadily when it got started?"

"Well, this is the rainy season, isn't it?" inquired Noll.

"Yes."

"But half of the year we have a dry season, don't we?"

"We do," admitted Hyman. "Yet, of the two, you'll prefer the wet season a whole lot. In the dry season the dust is blowing in your face day and night."

An orderly stepped briskly out on the veranda.

"Sergeant Overton is directed to report immediately to Lieutenant Prescott at the latter's quarters."

"I'll be there before the words are out of your mouth, Driggs," laughed Hal, rising and starting.

"Hold on, Sarge," called Private Kelly. "Look at the sheets of dew coming down, and you haven't your poncho. Here, put mine on."

"Thank you; I will," Hal assented, halting.

The poncho is a thin rubber, blanket-like affair. In the field the men usually spread the poncho on the ground, under their blankets. But in the middle of the poncho is a hole through which the head may be thrust, the poncho then falling over the trunk of the body like a rain coat.

Getting this on and replacing his campaign hat, Hal started briskly toward officers' quarters.

Lieutenant Prescott was in his room when Hal knocked, and promptly called, "Come in."

Hal entered, saluting his lieutenant, who was writing at a table. He looked up long enough to receive and return Hal's soldierly salute.

"With you in a moment, Sergeant," stated Lieutenant Prescott, who then turned back to his writing.

"Very good, sir."

Hal did not stir, but merely changed from his position of attention to one of greater ease.

Lieutenant Prescott is no stranger to our readers. He was second lieutenant of Captain Cortland's B Company of the Thirty-fourth. Readers of our "High School Boys Series" recall Dick Prescott as a schoolboy athlete, and readers of the "West Point Series" have followed the same Dick Prescott through his four years of cadetship at the United States Military Academy.

After finishing a page and signing it, Lieutenant Prescott wiped his pen, laid it down and wheeled about in his chair.

"You heard about Sergeant Gray?" asked the young West Pointer.

"Nothing in especial, sir."

"He was badly hurt ten minutes ago in stopping the runaway horses of Colonel Thorpe, of the Thirty-seventh Infantry. Colonel Thorpe was visiting our colonel, and only the two little Thorpe youngsters were in the carriage when the horses bolted, pitching the native driver from the seat."

"Badly hurt, sir?" cried Hal Overton in a tone of genuine distress. "That will be bad news in the company, sir. I don't think any of them know it yet, or I would have heard it before. Sergeant Gray is a man we swear by, sir, in the squad rooms."

"Sergeant Gray is a splendid soldier," observed Lieutenant Prescott warmly. "It is not believed that he will have to be retired, but he may have to put in two or three months on sick report before he can come back to duty. But that is not what I sent for you to tell you, Sergeant Overton. As Sergeant Hupner was left behind on detailed duty in the United States, the accident to Gray now leaves you the ranking sergeant in the company. Until further orders you will take over the duties of acting first sergeant, by Captain Cortland's direction."

"Very good, sir."

"This is Tuesday, Sergeant. Thursday, at eleven in the morning, the Thirty-fourth is due before the office of the captain of the port, to take boats for the transport 'Warren.' This regiment sails for Iloilo and other ports."

"May I repeat that to the men, sir?"

"It is going to be necessary, for you will have to see to it that all the personal and company baggage is ready for the teamsters at four to-morrow afternoon."

"Very good, sir."

"And, Sergeant, this is not official, but I believe it to be reliable; some of the Moro dattos (chieftains) are said to be preparing to stir up trouble in some of the southern islands. In that case the Thirty-fourth will bear the brunt of it all."

"I am really very glad to hear that, sir," cried Sergeant Hal eagerly.

"So am I, Sergeant," admitted the lieutenant, who, like most of the younger officers, hungered for active service against an enemy. "You understand your instructions, Sergeant?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very good; that is all, Sergeant."

Hal Overton saluted his officer with even more snap than usual, then hastened back to barracks.

Supper soon followed, and before the meal was over the rain had stopped. After supper several of B Company's men went out into the near-by street to stroll in the somewhat cooler air of the tropical evening.

A little later Hal and Noll followed. Presently, in the shadow under a densely foliaged yllang-yllang tree, they came upon two figures standing there, just in time to hear Corporal Hyman's voice saying heartily:

"That sounds like just as good a time as you make it out to be. And it won't take us over three hours? This is a hard night to get off, as the packing-up order has been given. I'll see our first sergeant, however, and find out whether there's any chance of my getting leave for the evening. If he says so, I can put it by the captain all right. Wait here, and--"

"I guess it won't be necessary, Corporal Hyman," broke in Hal's voice, sounding rather cool, for Hal had recognized Hyman's companion-none other than Vicente Tomba.

"Hello! There you are, Sarge," cried Hyman, while the little Filipino dandy started, peered at the young sergeants and then scowled.

"I'll try to fix it for you to get a pass to-night, Corporal," Hal went on, "if you really want one. But I don't exactly believe that you do. This native gentleman tried to butt in with us this afternoon, and at first we took it in good part. But he was too eager. Then, a little later in the afternoon, we heard him denouncing us to a white man because we weren't eager enough. Corporal, unless you know a lot about this man, I don't believe you want anything to do with him."

Tomba's face was blazing hotly, while his eyes gleamed angrily at Sergeant Overton's words.

"If that's the kind of fellow he is, then I don't want a pass to-night," Hyman replied. "This little man has just been telling me how much he loves American soldados, and he proposed to get a quilez and take me over into the city for the time of my life."

"From what happened this afternoon I'm a little shaky on Se?or Tomba," Hal continued.

"You never saw me before!" cried Tomba, wheeling about on Hal. "Liar! Thief!"

Hal's reply was prompt, sufficient, military. He delivered a short-arm, right-hand blow that struck the native in the neck, felling him to the sidewalk.

But Tomba was up in an instant, and a knife flashed in his hands.

Hal did not flinch. He leaped upon the little brown man, getting a clinch that held the rascal powerless. Then Noll coolly took away the knife, striking the blade into the tree trunk and snapping the steel in two.

"Shall I call the guard, Sergeant, to take this little brown rat?" demanded Corporal Hyman.

"No; he isn't big enough, or man enough to bother the guard with," replied young Sergeant Overton. "I'll take care of him myself."

Whirling the Filipino around, Hal gave him a vigorous start, emphasized by a kick, and Vicente Tomba slid off into the darkness.

Malay blood is not forgiving. There were other reasons, too, why it would have been far better had Sergeant Hal turned Tomba over to the guard.

* * *

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