MoboReader > Literature > Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche

   Chapter 9 NEWS COMES OF THE UPRISING

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 15218

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


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 re?ntered 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 breath

ing 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.

"Your name?"

"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?"

"Yes."

"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?"

"Three."

"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:

"Thank heaven!"

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:

"Thank heav--"

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!

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