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   Chapter 4 CERVERRA'S INNOCENT SHOP

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 13623

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"D'ye know what I'm thinking about?" demanded Private Kelly, as he turned to look out southward from Fort Benjamin Franklin.

"Not being a mind reader-no," replied Hal.

"I'm thinking this country is a fine place to dream about."

"It's worth it," declared Sergeant Overton, with unsullied boyish enthusiasm.

"Worth it-huh!" retorted Kelly, who had served longer in the Army. "Mind ye, I said this was a good country to dream about. But to live in-give me 'God's country.'"

The United States soldier on foreign service, invariably alludes to home in this way.

Send him to the fairest spot on which the human eye ever rested, and the soldier will still longingly speak of home as "God's country."

"Then I'll be polite," retorted Sergeant Hal, "and say that I wish, Kelly, that you could be at home. But as for me, I'm glad I'm here."

"Wait until you are in your third enlistment, and have put in another two years in the islands, after this time," growled Kelly.

"Why, where can you find a more beautiful spot than this?" demanded Hal Overton, gazing across the fields toward the town of Bantoc. "I never saw a more beautiful spot. I wonder if there are many like it in the tropics?"

"Beautiful?" rumbled Kelly. "Sure! But ye can't eat beauty. 'Tis a long way from anywhere, this spot, and that's what I've got against it."

"Grumbling again, Kelly?" asked Sergeant Noll Terry, joining them.

"Not grumbling," retorted Kelly. "Just giving my opinion. But this boy sergeant is trying to make me think this swamp on northern Mindanao is an earthly paradise."

"Well, isn't it?" challenged Noll. "I know what ails you, Kelly. When all is peace and comfort, with three 'squares' a day, and not a heap to do, your old soldier is always kicking. But just send you and the rest, Kelly, hiking up through those mountains yonder, give you twenty miles a day of rough climbing, drown you out with rain and let you use up your shoes chasing a lot of ugly brown men, and never a kick will we hear coming from you."

"Sure, no," replied Kelly philosophically. "'Tis then we'd be doing a soldier's work, and a kicker on a hike is as useless as a coffee-cooler at an afternoon tea."

"In other words," laughed Hal, "a real soldier of the Regular Army is as patient as a camel when things are all going wrong. The only time when your real soldier kicks is when he's having it easy and is too comfortable to be patient. Curious, isn't it?"

"Oh, well, 'tis no use talking to you two," retorted Private Kelly, shaking his head and strolling away. "Ye've not seen much of service yet."

"That's another joke," laughed Hal in a low voice, as soon as Kelly had stepped out of hearing. "Here's a man like Kelly, with fairly long service to his credit, but he's a private still, and probably always will be. If the colonel made him a corporal, Kelly wouldn't rest until he had the chevrons taken from his sleeve so that he could be a private soldier again. Now you and I, Noll, work like blazes all the time, and win our promotion, yet Kelly considers us only boys, and boys who don't know much, either. Either one of us can take Kelly out in a squad and work him until he runs rivers of perspiration, and he can't talk back without danger of being disciplined. Yet all the time, Kelly, under our orders, is thinking of us, half contemptuously, as boys who don't really know anything about soldiering."

"That's because we're young," laughed Noll.

"And because we're also boyish enough to have a little enthusiasm left in our make-ups. Noll, how do you really like our new station?"

"I wouldn't be anywhere else," retorted Sergeant Terry, "except some where else in the Philippines, possibly. One of the prospects that caught me for the service was the chance of seeing some of our foreign possessions."

"It's what catches half the young fellows who enlist to-day," went on Hal. "I've been looking forward to the Philippines from the day I first took the oath in the recruiting station."

"Well, we're here," replied Noll, breathing in the warm air with lazy satisfaction. "And I'm mighty glad that we're in for two years of it."

The Thirty-fourth had come out to the islands as a complete regiment. They had re?mbarked at Manila also as a regiment, but now the time had come when "Ours" was well scattered through the southern islands of the archipelago.

The second battalion and headquarters, with the band, had disembarked at Iloilo; two companies had been left on the island of Negros, and two more on Cebu. B and C Companies had been left at Fort Franklin, in the Misamis district on northern Mindanao, and the remaining two companies had been carried on to Zamboanga.

On its return trip the "Warren" had picked up the scattered military commands which the Thirty-fourth had relieved. Two companies of the Thirty-second infantry had gone from Bantoc the day before.

Mindanao is the second largest and the most fertile island in the Philippine group. The natural beauty is as great as the fertility. If it were not for the occasional ferocity of some of the tribes this island could be turned into one vast net-work of plantations as rich as any that the world can show.

Bantoc was a sleepy, sunlit little town, half Spanish and half Moro. Thanks to American rule, the streets were clean and order reigned. There were about forty stores and other mercantile establishments in Bantoc, for this town was headquarters for a large country district. The people of Bantoc, outside of the small white population, were more than half Moros, the other islanders belonging to the Tagalo and other allied tribes. Almost without exception these people were lazy and good-natured. A newcomer would have difficulty in believing that such men as he met in Bantoc could ever give the soldiers trouble. It was to this town that the few planters and many small native farmers sent rich stores of rice, cocoa, hemp, cotton, indigo and costly woods.

There was also the port of Bantoc, through which these products were sent out to do their part in the world's commerce.

The native leaders of the population of Bantoc were wealthy little brown men. There was much money in circulation, the leading Moros and Tagalos having handsome homes and entertaining lavishly. There was a native fashionable set, just as exclusive and autocratic as any that exists in a white man's country.

Fort Franklin overlooked the bay at the opposite end from the port. Yet it was a "fort" only in being a military station. There was no artillery here, and the only fortifications were semi-permanent earthworks, fronted by ditches, thrown up around the officers' quarters and the barracks and other buildings. The parade ground and recreation spaces were outside these very ordinary fortifications

.

"The whole scene looks too peacefully lazy to match with the yarns we hear of trouble breeding among the Moros in those mountains yonder," remarked Hal musingly.

"If trouble is coming, I hope it will come soon," returned Sergeant Noll. "The only one thing that I have against our life out here is that it threatens to become too lazy an existence. If there's going to be any active service for us, I want to see it happen soon, for active service is what I came to the Philippines for, anyway, as far as I had any interest in the trip."

"From the gossip of the town and barracks, I think we'll have our trouble soon enough," Hal replied. "You have fatigue duty this afternoon, haven't you, Noll?"

"Yes; thanks to your detail," replied Noll.

"But I couldn't help the detail, old fellow. Fatigue was for you in your turn. I'm sorry it came to you to-day, though, for I've a pass and I'm going to run over into Bantoc. I want to see more of that queer little town."

"Going to be back for parade?"

"Yes; my pass extends only to parade. I never want to miss that when I can help it."

Hal glanced at his watch, then back at barracks, where hardly a soldier showed himself, for all had caught the spirit of indolence in this hot, moist climate of Mindanao.

"Well, I must be going, Noll. Don't work your fatigue party too hard until the men get used to this heat."

"Small danger of my working 'em too hard," laughed Noll. "It's only as a sort of special favor that the fellows will work at all."

Hal, with a nod to his chum, stepped out on to the hard, level, white road that led from Fort Franklin to Bantoc.

It was a pretty road, shaded at points by beautiful palms; yet the shade was not sufficient to protect the young soldier all the way into town. Ere he had gone far he found it necessary to carry his damp handkerchief in one hand, prepared to mop his steaming face.

"Mindanao is certainly some hot," he muttered. "It keeps a fellow steaming all the time."

Yet there was plenty to divert one's thoughts from himself, for along this road lay some of the prettiest small farms to be found on northern Mindanao. Instead of farms they really looked more like well-kept gardens.

"It's the finest spot in the world to be lazy in," thought the young sergeant, as he glanced here and there over the charming scene. "If I settled down here for life I'd want money enough to pay other fellows to do all the work for me."

Though Hal did not know it, from the window of one room in a house that he passed a pair of unusually bright, keen eyes glared out at him.

"That is he, the sergente, Overton," growled Vicente Tomba to himself. "Since we have Se?or Draney's orders that the sergente is to leave this life as soon as possible, why not to-day? He is going to Bantoc, where it will be easy to snare him. And his friend Terry is not with him. That pair, back to back, might put up a hard fight-but one alone should be easy for our bravos. Then, another day, we can plan to get the Sergente Terry."

Hal was not quite in Bantoc when a Tagalo on a pony rode by him at a gallop. Hal glanced at the fellow indolently, but did not recognize him, as it was not Tomba, but one of that worthy's messengers.

Up and down the principal street Sergeant Overton wandered. He glanced into shops, though only idly, for to-day he was not on a buying mission.

At last the cool-looking interior of a little restaurant attracted him. He entered, ordering an ice cream. When this was finished he ate another. It was so restful, sitting here, that when he had disposed of the second order, he paid his account but did not rise at once.

"The sergente is newly arrived here?" asked a white-clad Filipino, rising from another table and joining Overton.

"Yes."

"Then you have not seen much of Bantoc?" asked the Filipino, speaking in Spanish.

"Not as much as I mean to see of the town," Hal answered in the same tongue.

"Then possibly, Se?or Sergente, you have not yet seen the collection of ancient Moro weapons in the shop of Juan Cerverra."

"I haven't," Hal admitted.

"Then you have missed much, se?or, but you will no doubt go to see the collection one of these days."

"I'd like to. Where is the shop?"

"Four doors below here. If you have time, Se?or Sergente, I am walking that way and will show you the place."

"Thank you; I'll be glad to go," answered Hal, rising promptly. His was the profession of arms, and a display of any unfamiliar weapons was sure to attract the young sergeant.

Juan Cerverra, despite his Spanish-sounding name, proved to be a full-blooded Moro. He wore his Moro costume, with its tight-fitting trousers and short, embroidered blouse. There were no customers in the shop when Hal and his Tagalo acquaintance entered.

In another moment Sergeant Hal was deeply absorbed in several wall cases of swords and knives, all of them of old-time patterns. It was a sight that would have bewildered a lover and collector of curios of past ages.

One case was filled entirely with fine specimens of that once-dreaded weapon, the Moro "campilan." This is a straight sword, usually, with a very heavy blade, which gradually widens towards the end. This is a heavy cutting sword, and one that was placed in Sergeant Hal's hands, though Cerverra claimed that it was two hundred years old, had an edge like a razor.

"How much is such a sword as this?" Hal inquired.

"Forty dollars," replied Cerverra.

"Gold!"

"No; Mex."

Hal felt almost staggered with the cheapness of things here, as compared with the curio stores in Manila. Forty dollars "Mex" meant but about twenty dollars in United States currency.

"I have some cheaper ones," went on Cerverra. "Here is one at eighteen dollars."

"I'm going to have one of these campilan," Hal told himself.

In his interest he did not note that the Tagalo who had brought him to the shop had left him and was standing on the sidewalk outside.

"Are you interested in these creeses?" inquired Cerverra, passing down the shop and pointing to another wall case.

The creese is an ancient Malay knife, with a waved, snaky blade-a weapon with which the Malay pirates of the past used to do fearful execution.

Hal stepped before the wall case. "They are very interesting looking," he replied. "What does a good creese cost?"

The young sergeant did not wait for an answer.

Click! A spring bolt on the under side of a trap door on which he was standing shot out of place.

Down dropped the trap door with such suddenness that Hal Overton did not have even time to clutch at anything.

Then the trap door, relieved of his weight, flew back into place.

Sergeant Hal shot down a steep incline, too smooth for him to be able to stay his downward progress.

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