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   Chapter 3 PLOTTERS TRAVEL WITH THE FLAG

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 13248

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


From the deck of the "Warren" only distant glimpses of land, on the horizon line, were visible.

The sea to-day was without a ripple, yet, as it was not raining, the sun beat down with a heat that would have wilted most of the passengers, had it not been for the awnings stretched over every deck.

Up on the saloon deck was a mixture of the field uniforms of Army officers, the white duck or cotton of male civilian passengers, and the white dresses of the women. Most of the married officers of the Thirty-fourth had brought their families along with them, and so children played along the saloon deck, or ran down among the friendly soldiers on the spar deck. Here and there, among the women, was a Yankee schoolma'am, going to some new charge in the islands.

A number of the male cabin passengers were not Army people. Some belonged to the postals service, the islands civil service, or were planters or merchants of wealth and influence in the islands, who had been permitted to take passage on the troop ship.

Between decks the enlisted men of "Ours" were quartered and berthed by companies. Each enlisted man, by way of a bed, had a bunk whose frame was of gas pipe, to which frame was swung the canvas berth. These berths were in tiers, three high.

Away forward, in special quarters by themselves, as a sort of steerage passengers, were some two score natives of the islands who were making the journey for one reason or another. These natives, however, kept to themselves, and the soldiers saw little of them.

Altogether, the "Warren" carried something more than fourteen hundred passengers, which meant that quarters were at least sufficiently crowded. Yet the soldiers, with the cheerful good nature of their kind, took this crowded condition as one of the incidents of the life.

Noll was up on deck enjoying himself; Hal, as acting first sergeant, was otherwise occupied during the greater part of the forenoon. At the head of B Company's quarters, two decks below, young Overton sat at a little table, busily working over a set of papers that he had to make up. This "paper work" is one of the banes of first sergeants and of company commanders.

It was after eleven o'clock when Sergeant Hal finished his last sheet. The papers he folded neatly and thrust them into a long, official envelope, which he endorsed and blotted. Rising, he thrust the envelope into the breast of his blouse and started for the nearest companionway.

"I'm glad, old fellow, that you are the acting first sergeant," grinned comfortable Noll Terry, as his chum came upon deck with forehead, face and neck beaded with perspiration.

"Oh, it doesn't hurt a fellow to have a little work to do," replied Overton, smiling. "You see, you've just been loafing this morning, almost ever since inspection, while I have a consciousness of work well performed."

"Keep your consciousness and enjoy it," retorted Noll, as the two boyish sergeants stepped along the deck.

"I wonder if Captain Cortland is on deck at this moment?" remarked Sergeant Hal.

"I saw him five minutes ago," Noll answered.

Almost at that moment B Company's commander came to the forward rail of the saloon deck and looked down. Then his glance rested on Hal.

"Are the papers ready, Sergeant?" the captain called down.

"Yes, sir; I have them with me," replied Hal. Pressing through the throng of soldiers, he ascended the steps to the saloon deck, saluting and passing over the envelope.

"Thank you, Sergeant."

"I think you'll find them all right, sir. I'm somewhat new at the work, but I've taken a lot of pains."

"There's always a lot of pains taken with any work that you do, Sergeant."

"Thank you, sir."

Hal saluted and was about to turn away when he heard a voice saying:

"What we need, in dealing with the Moros in these southern islands, is to show them that--"

Just then the speaker happened to turn, and stopped talking for a moment.

The voice was new, but Sergeant Overton started at sight of the speaker's face.

"Why, that's the same big, florid-faced fellow that I saw in the shed with Tomba, that time it rained so hard," flashed through the young sergeant's astonished mind. "What can he be doing here-a cabin passenger on a United States troop ship?"

Unconsciously Hal was staring hard at the stranger. It appeared to annoy the florid-faced man.

"Well, my man," he cried impatiently, looking keenly at Hal, "are you waiting to say something to me?"

"No, sir," Sergeant Hal replied quickly.

"Perhaps you thought you knew me?"

"No, sir; I merely remembered having once seen you."

"You've seen me before? Then your memory is better than mine, Sergeant. Where have you ever seen me before?"

"The other afternoon, sir, on the south side of the Pasig River at Manila. You were in a shed, out of the rain, with a native calling himself Vicente Tomba."

The florid-faced man betrayed neither uneasiness nor resentment. Instead, he smiled pleasantly as he replied:

"I thought you were in error, Sergeant, and now I'm certain of it, for I don't know any Vicente Tomba."

"Then I beg your pardon for the mistake, sir," Hal replied quickly.

"No need to apologize, Sergeant, for you have done no harm," replied the florid-faced man.

Here Captain Cortland's voice broke in, cool and steady:

"Yet I know, Mr. Draney, that Sergeant Overton feels embarrassed by the mere fact of his having made a mistake. Sergeant Overton is one of our best and most capable soldiers, and he rarely makes a mistake of any kind."

"I'm glad to hear that he's one of your best soldiers," replied Draney pleasantly. "It seems odd, doesn't it, Captain, to see so boyish a chap wearing sergeant's chevrons?"

"Sergeant Overton, Mr. Draney, is more than merely a sergeant. He is acting first sergeant of B Company, and is likely to continue as such for some months to come."

"He has risen so high?" cried Draney. "I certainly congratulate the young man."

There appeared to be no further call for Hal to remain on the saloon deck. After flashing an inquiring look at his company commander, and saluting that officer, Hal next raised his uniform cap to Draney, then turned and made his way down to the spar deck.

"Your sergeant looks like a very upright young man, Captain," observed Mr. Draney.

"Overton?" rejoined Captain Cortland. "I am certain that he is the soul of honor."

"His loyalty has often been tested, I presume?" persisted the florid-faced fellow.

"He's a very thoroughly trustworthy young man, if that's what you mean."

Captain Cortland was beginning to

feel somewhat annoyed, for, truth to tell, he did not like Draney very well.

"Is your sergeant," asked Draney, "a young man much interested in the joys of life, or is he of the quiet, studious sort who seldom care for good times?"

"You seem to be uncommonly interested in Sergeant Overton, Mr. Draney," remarked the captain almost testily.

"Only as a type of American soldier," replied Draney blandly. "I was wondering if my estimate of the young man were borne out by your experience with him."

"Sergeant Overton is fond of the joys of life, if you mean the quiet and decent pleasures. He is a good deal of a student, and that type is never interested in drinking or gambling, or any of the vices and dissipations, if that is what you mean."

Then, noting that Colonel North had just stepped out on deck from his stateroom, Captain Cortland added hastily:

"Pardon me; I wish to speak with the commanding officer."

As colonel and captain met they exchanged salutes.

"I told Draney, sir, that I wished to speak with you," Captain Cortland reported, in a low voice. "I did not tell him, however, that I wished to speak with you mainly as a pretext for getting away from his society."

"You don't like Draney?" smiled Colonel North, eying his captain shrewdly.

"I certainly do not," Cortland confessed.

"And I'm almost as certain that I don't, either," replied the regimental commander. "However, Cortland, we shall have to treat him with a fair amount of courtesy, for Draney is an influential man down in the part of the world for which we are headed. He is influential with the Moros, I mean. Often he is in a position to give the military authorities useful information of intended native mischief. Draney is a very big planter, you know, and white planters are somewhat scarce in the Moro country. It is one of the great disappointments of our government that more American capital is not invested in establishing great plantations in the extremely rich Moro country. But, as you know, Cortland, some of the Moro dattos are given to heading sudden, unexpected and very desperate raids on white planters, and that fact has discouraged Americans, Englishmen and Germans from investing millions and millions of capital in the Moro country."

"Yet the fellow Draney is a planter there, sir?"

"Draney owns half a dozen very successful plantations."

"And is he never molested by the Moros, sir?" inquired Captain Cortland.

"Never enough to discourage him in his investments. Rather odd, isn't it, Cortland?"

"Very odd, indeed, sir," replied Captain Cortland dryly.

That same afternoon Captain Cortland, after finishing a promenade on the saloon deck, went forward, descending to the spar deck. There, under the awning, he came upon Sergeants Hal and Noll, who saluted as he addressed them.

"Sergeant Overton," began the captain in a low tone, "you seemed, this forenoon, to feel a good deal of surprise at seeing Mr. Draney on board."

"I was surprised, sir."

"Tell me what you know about the man."

Sergeant Hal briefly related the adventure that he and Noll had had with Vicente Tomba on the Escolta, and their subsequent meeting with Tomba and Draney on the south side of the Pasig. Hal also repeated what they had overheard Tomba saying to Draney. Hal then described the flight of the pair in the quilez.

"Yet Draney declares that he never heard of Tomba," said the captain musingly. "Sergeant Overton, do you think it possible that you have mistaken Mr. Draney for someone else?"

"It may be, of course, sir," Hal admitted. "But I hardly believe it possible. Besides, I have pointed out Mr. Draney to Sergeant Terry and he also is positive that it is the same man."

At that moment all three turned to look forward. There was some sort of commotion going on there. It proved, however, to be nothing but the herding of the Filipino passengers on deck near the bow, while one of the regiment's officers was inspecting their quarters below.

The three officers returned to their conversation, but presently Hal murmured:

"Don't look immediately, Noll, but presently take a passing glance at the Filipino standing away up in the bow. Tell Captain Cortland who the fellow is."

"It's Vicente Tomba, although I'd hardly know him in that costume of the peon (laborer)," Noll answered.

"You are both certain that the man is Tomba?" inquired Captain Cortland keenly.

"Yes, sir," both young sergeants declared, and Hal added:

"There's Corporal Hyman up forward, sir. If you'll go up and speak to the corporal, and allow us to accompany you, sir, you can see whether Hyman knows the fellow. He, too, was approached by Tomba, at the nipa barracks."

Accordingly the test was made.

"Why, certainly, the fellow is Tomba," replied Hyman, "though he looks a lot different, sir, from the dandy who was talking to me last Tuesday night."

Captain Cortland asked all three of the non-commissioned officers some further questions as they stood there. None of the quartette discovered the fact that, close to them, crouching under the canvas cover of a life boat as it swung at davits, lay one of the keen-eyed Filipino passengers. This swarthy little fellow was only about half versed in English, but he understood enough of the talk to realize what was in the wind.

In some mysterious manner what this swarthy little spy overheard traveled, less than an hour later, to Mr. Draney, planter, and that gentleman, as he sat in his stateroom and thought it all over, was greatly disturbed.

Still later that afternoon-not long before sundown-while the "Warren" was still ploughing her way through the sea, the little brown spy drew Vicente Tomba to one side in the native steerage.

To make assurance doubly sure, both Filipinos spoke in their own Malay dialect, the Tagalos.

"Tomba!"

"Luis?"

"Tomba, the Se?or Draney is greatly disturbed. Sergeant Overton and Sergeant Terry have recognized him as one whom they saw with you in Manila."

"Bah! That amounts to little. Se?or Draney can deny."

"But they have recognized you also, my Tomba, and so has Corporal Hyman. More, they have told Captain Cortland all they know, and all they can guess."

"The dogs!" growled Vicente Tomba, his snarl showing his fine, white teeth.

"You do well to call them dogs," grinned Luis. "Se?or Draney bids me to remind you what becomes of dogs that are troublesome. You have others here with you who can help. At the first chance, then, Overton, Terry and Hyman are to bite the bone that kills-and Captain Cortland, too, if you can manage it!"

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