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   Chapter 11 IN THE FIRST BRUSH WITH MOROS

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 8164

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


At times, while the detachment in the woods covered that last mile the firing ahead cropped up briskly. Then it died down into an occasional, sputtering shot or two. But every discharge of a rifle ahead was now distinctly audible to Uncle Sam's men marching to the relief.

At last the marching men came so close that the young lieutenant whispered to the boyish sergeant:

"I'm going to join the 'point,' Overton. Bring the men on at the same interval, but keep your eyes ahead for signals from me."

"Very good, sir."

Ahead the marching men could now see that the trees were thinning out. Still further ahead they knew that there must lie either plantation fields or the houses themselves.

Many a soldier in the column tightened his grip on his rifle as he thought how soon, now, the raiding Moros would find that they had more fighting on hand than they had bargained for.

The "point" presently halted at the edge of the forest and Lieutenant Prescott signaled back by raising his hand with a downward gesture. Sergeant Overton halted the main detachment.

Over a broad field the soldiers looked, but it was now plain that the besieged planter's house lay on the other side of a belt of timber at the further edge of the field. Then the officer signaled for the main column to be brought up.

"I don't see any of the enemy in sight, men," declared Prescott. "You will deploy into line of skirmishers and then we'll run across the field. Be prepared for the order to lie down in case the enemy develops."

A moment later, and the men, in one straight, thin line, with considerable intervals between them, charged silently across the field.

At the edge of the timber they halted again. Lieutenant Prescott, revolver in hand, moved forward, accompanied only by Corporal Cotter.

After some minutes the pair came back again.

"You'll go forward as skirmishers," said Prescott. "Keep your intervals. Forward!"

No further word was spoken, but the lieutenant, at the right of the line and slightly in advance, moved so stealthily that those nearest him felt that the enemy could not be far off.

Suddenly the stick that the lieutenant carried in place of a sword was held aloft, then the point lowered. The advancing line halted.

"When you move forward again," went the low, almost whispered and repeated order down the line, "crouch low and do not hurry. A hundred yards ahead is a position from which we can rake the rascals with a flanking fire. Forward!"

Very soon the advancing soldiers caught sight of the planter's house between the trees. It stood some seven hundred yards from this nearer edge of the clearing.

Now the soldiers, crouching as they moved, until they appeared to be bent nearly double, came in sight of a trench. It spread away obliquely before them, but everything in the trench was visible to them. At a rough estimate there were some seventy-five brown-skinned Moros crouching in the trench behind a line of hard-packed dirt thrown up before them.

At this moment most of the brown fellows were loafing in the trench. Only occasionally one of them showed himself, raising his gun quickly and firing toward the house. The planter's return fire did not come toward Prescott's command, but well to the right of the soldiers.

"The Moros are up to their same old rascally tricks," whispered Lieutenant Prescott to Sergeant Hal Overton. "They fire heavily, once in a while, and then pepper the house occasionally with single shots. Their idea is to keep those in the house firing until the defenders have used up all their ammunition. When the Moros are satisfied that Seaforth's party have no more cartridges, then those brown pirates plan to rush the house, with little loss to themselves, and run creeses through every defender left alive."

A moment later Prescott's order was repeated down the line of soldiers, now lying prone on the ground:

"Load magazines! Remember to fire low. At the pistol shot begin firing at will, but keep cool and try to make every cartridge tell. Better to shoot slowly than to was

te any ammunition."

As noiselessly as they could the prostrate men opened the magazines of their rifles and slipped the cartridges in.

Lieutenant Prescott, revolver in hand, waited until he saw that all had had time to obey the order. Then the stick, now in his left hand, pointed forward, and the various squad leaders whispered:

"At four hundred yards, aim!"

It was a tense moment for the new men.

Bang! Lieutenant Prescott's revolver rang out, the muzzle pointed toward the enemy.

Instantly following it came a sputtering of reports, then a settled, heavy fire. The noise of so many soldiers firing at will was like that made on Fourth of July by a hundred packs of cannon crackers all going off at once.

Yet over all the din rose the yells of the surprised Moros in the trench. It had caught them hard, for most of the soldiers were doing good shooting.

Heedless, now, of the fire from the planter's house, the Moros in the trench rose to flee. Some of them dropped where they stood. Others ran away as fast as their brown legs could carry them, some brandishing their rifles with defiance, a few others throwing down their firearms as they started to bolt.

About a dozen of the rascals tried to return the fire of the soldiers, but fired too high. None of the khaki-clad men were hit.

"Cease firing!" shouted Lieutenant Prescott, but he addressed his order to the bugler who stood beside him. No voice could carry over such a din of firing.

Ta-rar-ta-ra-ta! rang the bugle. As the men obeyed the command to cease firing one would again have been reminded of exploding packs of fire crackers, for the fire died down sputteringly, with here and there another report or two from soldiers who felt that they had a fine bead drawn and ached to "get" another enemy or two.

Fully twenty-five of the Moros had fallen, either in the trench at the first crash of fire, or else while running to cover.

These, however, were not the only enemies at hand, for, from a grove off to the left of the planter's house a heavy fire now crashed out, and bullets began to clip twigs from the trees among which the soldiers lay.

Other bullets whizzed by over the heads of Uncle Sam's men as they lay there. There was a peculiarly spiteful sound to the passage of these bullets. "Whew-ew-ew!" they sang, for most of the Moros were using the .43 Remington, with the brass-jacketed, heavy bullet, this being a favorite arm in the islands among the natives. There are always adventurers at Hong Kong who, for a price, will land any number of Remingtons and any amount of ammunition at lonely spots along the coast of the islands.

Shading his eyes with his left hand Lieutenant Prescott tried to locate this other firing party of Moros. Smokeless powder gives no clue to the hiding places of an enemy, and even if there be any kind of echo it is a confusing guide.

But at last Prescott was sure he had located the second Moro fighting party and he pointed out the place to his men.

"Send them a volley over there, all together," ordered the young officer. "Ready; load! At six hundred and fifty yards, aim. Fire!"

Prescott's face beamed with satisfaction as he held his field glass to his eyes and saw where the bullets threw up the dirt.

"Splendidly done, men!" he cried. "We'll send 'em another. Ready; load. Aim-fire!"

Once more the volley crashed out splendidly. Then the men lay on their hot-barreled rifles.

No more shots came their way just then.

"We've silenced their fire for the time being," chuckled the officer. "I wonder if the enemy are retiring?"

In the silence Uncle Sam's men could hear a frantic cheer rise from the interior of the planter's house.

"Yes; I'll warrant they're glad," cried Prescott, his eyes shining mistily. "But we haven't reached them yet!"

It looked easy. All the detachment had to do was to run across a field and halt before the planter's house.

Yet how could the young commanding officer know that he would not lose half his men by ambushed fire while crossing that open space?

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