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   Chapter 8 THE RIGHT MAN IN THE GUARD HOUSE

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 12912

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


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, se?or," 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.

"Se?or 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 s

treet 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."

"No, sir."

"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 guard-house cell!"

But was he?

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