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   Chapter 10 THE INSULT TO THE FLAG

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 13782

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It was a deserted road over which the detachment marched.

When there is fighting in Mindanao, and troops are scurrying along the roads, those inhabitants who are non-combatants keep within their doors-at all events, they remain out of sight. It is as though every native feared to be shot as a possible rebel.

But Uncle Sam's troops have no quarrel with men and women following peaceful occupations. If these brown natives understood our people better they would not scurry to cover when the khaki-clad men are passing on fighting bent.

For three miles, or until Bantoc was left well behind, the quick time continued. Then the young lieutenant decided that it would be necessary to slacken the pace for a while. Soldiers must not only reach their destination as early as possible; they must also be fit for fighting on arrival.

It was not difficult to find the way. An almost straight road led out to the Seaforth plantation. Lieutenant Prescott had a map of the country for use in case he found it necessary.

Twice on the way the men halted, for five minutes each time.

Then, about eight miles out, they came upon outlying scenes of plantation life. There were broad fields, rich with crops, but to-day no laborers were to be seen at work.

Then the main buildings of the Draney plantation were sighted.

About the buildings, too, all was unwontedly quiet. In fact, the main house was closed and had the air of being in a state of siege.

"Humph!" muttered the young lieutenant to the boyish sergeant. "If all we hear about Draney is true, or even the half of it, he has no need to fear the Moros."

Just as the detachment was passing opposite the main building the front door opened, and Draney, bearing a rifle in the hollow of his left arm, hastened out, holding up his right hand.

"Detachment halt!" commanded Prescott in a wearied tone. Then the young commanding officer stepped rapidly toward the planter.

"Well, Mr. Draney, what is it?" Prescott inquired.

"I'm thankful you've come, Prescott."

"Mr. Prescott, if you please," interposed the officer coldly.

"I'm mighty glad you've come. Off yonder we've been hearing firing at intervals ever since daylight."

"How recently have you heard it?" queried Prescott.

"Within ten minutes."

"Thank heaven, then!" muttered the lieutenant. "The Seaforth people are holding out."

"Is it at Seaforth's?" demanded Draney, with assumed eagerness.

"So I imagine. But I must hurry on my way. Take care of yourself, Mr. Draney."

Perhaps that last bit of advice was delivered in a tone of some sarcasm. Draney appeared to feel very uneasy.

"Prescott-Mr. Prescott-aren't you going to leave some of your men here to protect this place?"

"I don't believe it will be necessary," replied the lieutenant, and again, no doubt, there was some hidden irony in his words.

"But the Moros may attack us here at any moment," urged Draney pleadingly.

"I hope they won't attack you, Mr. Draney. But, in any event, I have no orders to leave any of my men here."

"Yet, surely, as an officer commanding troops in the field, you have some discretion in the matter."

"I fear it would be an abuse of my discretion to weaken my detachment by leaving men here."

At that moment four or five shots sounded faintly in the distance.

"You must see my present duty as clearly as I do, Mr. Draney," uttered the young lieutenant quickly. "Good-bye, sir."

"Can't you leave me even six men?"

Prescott did not reply, but called:

"March the detachment, Sergeant."

Hal gave the moving order instantly, the lieutenant cutting off the column obliquely and thus rejoining its head.

"The impudence of that fellow!" growled Lieutenant Prescott, under his breath, but Sergeant Hal heard the words.

Two or three minutes later, when the plantation buildings were out of sight, the young sergeant chanced to look back along the line.

As he did so something in the sky caught his attention.

"Look at that, sir," urged Hal, stepping out of the way of the column and pointing backward.

Lieutenant Prescott uttered an exclamation of anger.

"I wish we had men to spare. I certainly would send some of them back to that confounded Draney!" quivered Prescott.

The object at which both gazed was a blood-red kite, flying high, and apparently sent up not far from the Draney house.

"It must be a signal, sir," suggested Sergeant Hal.

"Of course it is!" stormed the lieutenant. "It's the easiest way in the world of sending the news to the brown fiends swarming around Seaforth's that a military column has passed Draney's place."

"I could take a few men, sir, go back and arrest Draney and bring him to you," suggested Hal quietly.

"What would be the use?" demanded the young officer, a scowl of disgust settling on his face. "In the first place, you wouldn't find Draney in an hour, for probably he has hidden himself. Even if you found him sitting on his back porch he'd be prepared to swear that some native had sent up the kite without his knowledge or permission. Sergeant, a fellow of Draney's type is always hard to catch, and it's bad judgment to try to catch him until you have evidence enough to hang him. So, for the present, I'm certain that we'd better let the scoundrel go. But the flying of that kite means that there's danger of an ambuscade. This is the first time I've commanded in the field and I don't intend to be cut to pieces in ambush."

Raising his voice, Lieutenant Prescott called:

"Detachment, halt!"

As the column of twos came to a stop Lieutenant Prescott announced:

"Men, you can see that red kite flying, back at the plantation. It's a signal to a possible enemy ahead of us. The enemy may try to ambush us. Therefore, from now on, every man will move as quietly as he possibly can. No unnecessary word will be spoken in ranks. You will take pains to keep your equipments from jingling. I am going to march you off the road and send a 'point' ahead. Corporal Cotter!"

"Sir?"

"Take the first four files for a 'point' and march two hundred yards ahead of the detachment. Halt and signal back to us if at any time you hear anything, or have any other reason to believe that you are nearing an ambush. Take the first path to the left, which you will find about a quarter of a mile from here. If I have further orders for you I will send them forward."

"Very good, sir."

"March the 'point,' Corporal."

When the last file of Cotter's men was two hundred yards in advance Lieutenant Prescott nodded to Sergeant Hal to march the main column.

Not a soldier, now, but understood that the command was probably close to the enemy. At all events, fighting within the hour seemed almost certain, for occasional shots still sounded in the country ahead.

No word was now spoken. Cotter found the path, and led his men into it. Pre

scott knew, from his map, that the path would lead his men to Seaforth's, though by a wide detour from the highway.

Sergeant Hal Overton felt a queer little thrill when he realized that they were now nearing an enemy reported to be much superior in numbers. The thrill was not exactly of fear, though there was some uneasiness in it. Every soldier has felt this sensation when marching into battle. But Hal was curious to know how the feeling affected the other men.

If Lieutenant Prescott felt any of it, there was nothing in his face or manner to betray the fact. He appeared to be "all business," and to have a keen sense of responsibility which, however, did not dismay him in the least. No soldier could gaze at that young officer and feel that the detachment was badly commanded. Such is the West Point training.

Kelly and some of the other soldiers who had seen much active service plodded along like so many laborers going unconcernedly to their work.

Some of the newer enlisted men, who had never before been in real action, betrayed their newness only by the eager light that shone in their eyes. These new men, too, took pains to walk still more softly along the forest path than did any of the old hands at campaigning.

To any but the most hardened old soldier there is something "creepy" in plodding along over a narrow path in a rather dense forest, not knowing at what moment a lurking enemy may pour in a volley that will bowl over half of the command.

Yet every man clutches a rifle and feels at his belt enough ammunition for putting up a good and long fight. There is something exultant in the consciousness that, if attacked, one can render back a good account of himself, and that the American soldier has no cause to be afraid of any troops on earth. It is man's work-and it takes a man to do it!

To the "point," naturally, came the real danger-in the first moment of possible ambush along the path. It would run into trouble first. That is what it is for. If the "point" meets an enemy every man in it may be bowled over by a sudden shower of hostile bullets. But the main column is warned, and the commander can bring up the bulk of his force in battle line armed with the knowledge of where the enemy is. When the "point" marches but two hundred yards in advance of the main body of the command then it can be promptly supported if trouble comes.

Now the distant firing broke out again, and briskly.

"The Moro fiends are trying to rush the planter's house before help can reach him!" muttered Lieutenant Prescott to himself. "We'll spoil some of the joy of those savages when we get close enough to send them a raking volley. I hope they're lined up so that we can give them a flank fire before the scoundrels know that we're on the ground at all."

Two miles covered, then a third was left behind.

Now, a nervous or too eager commander might have hurried his men over the remaining ground, but Prescott, at West Point, had been taught the value of cool, deliberate work.

It was noticeable, however, that now the men marched along with more spirit and swing. Those who may have been secretly nervous were at least certain that soon their suspense would be over. A few minutes, and they would be engaged in something more definite than merely tramping in the direction of danger.

Suddenly Corporal Cotter halted his men, and the same gesture was visible at the head of the column behind.

"Softly," whispered Lieutenant Prescott, but his gesture carried further than did his voice. The main column closed slowly up with the "point."

"I couldn't go further, sir, without running into those fellows yonder," whispered the corporal. "I didn't know that you would want me to do it."

Cotter pointed through the rows of trees to a clearing beyond.

In the center of the clearing stood a little building-plainly the schoolhouse in which the few white children on the plantation and probably many native children of the neighborhood were taught, five days in the week, by some clear-eyed Yankee schoolma'am furnished by Uncle Sam's Government.

Seven Moros were visible at or close to the schoolhouse. All of them were armed. One fellow was hurrying up with a can of oil, which, while the soldiers waited and watched, he sprinkled over the woodwork of the doorway, carrying a trail of the oil inside the building.

"That's a Filipino estimate of the value of education," whispered Lieutenant Prescott savagely to his sergeant.

But then something happened that made Hal Overton boil with indignation.

Just as the fellow had finished scattering the oil and was about to strike a match, one of the other Moros seized the fellow's arm, then pointed up to the flag pole over the front of the building.

All of the brown rascals began to chuckle. Then one of them climbed up. With a keen-edged creese he cut the Flag loose, hurling it down to the ground.

Now began an orgy of derision. First the Moros spat upon the Flag; then, howling gleefully, they commenced to dance upon it. Every now and then one of the brown men bent down to slash at the Flag.

It was hard for some sixty of Uncle Sam's men to stand there, with guns in their hands, and witness such desecration as that. Some of the soldiers began to mutter.

"Silence!" hissed Lieutenant Prescott.

One soldier rested his rifle forward, as though bent on taking a shot, but Sergeant Hal, like a flash, knocked up his arm.

"No man is to fire unless ordered," muttered Overton, and Lieutenant Prescott nodded his approval.

Soon the Flag lay torn and trampled, all but covered in the dust of the roadway before the school. Then one of the Moros again struck a match. In a moment the flames began to crackle and the smoke to ascend.

Then, as if satisfied with their work, the brown rascals set out at a steady trot in the direction of Seaforth's.

"Men," spoke Lieutenant Prescott, in a low voice, "it would have been fine to have poured a volley into those wretches, but it would have told their main body our exact location. We must sink all other feelings until we have reached the plantation and rescued those imperiled there. Corporal Cotter, lead your men to the left, through the woods and around the schoolhouse. On the other side you will find a path that you will follow."

As the detachment started Hal saluted.

"Sir, have I your permission to run out into the clearing, recover the Flag and then rejoin you?"

Lieutenant Prescott shot a keen look at the Army boy, then answered briefly:

"Yes, Sergeant."

Hal's task was quickly executed. In the open he encountered no one; when he rejoined the column in the woods he reverently carried a Flag, torn, slashed and dirt-stained.

"One of these days, sir," quivered the Army boy to his officer, "I hope to be able to teach those Moros a lesson with this very Flag!"

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