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   Chapter 14 THE CALL FOR MIDNIGHT COURAGE

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 13377

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


At a few minutes past six it was dark, for the sun goes down early in the tropics.

Now the soldiers were relieved from their cramped positions of the day. A few at a time they left the trenches, rising and walking about.

Inside the house their bacon was cooked for them and their coffee made. Mr. Seaforth, who was abundantly supplied with food, added a variety of palatable eatables to their night meal.

Lieutenant Prescott and Sergeant Hal Overton walked together around the line of defenses. The officer frequently used his night glass, now and then passing it to the boyish sergeant.

"You see, Overton," said the lieutenant, "from all outward appearances there isn't a Moro left in the woods anywhere around here. Our good judgment tells us, however, now that night has come, that we shall do well to be doubly alert."

"Do you think they will dare attack so large a force in a sudden rush, sir?"

"It is the only trick by which the rascals could hope to beat out an intrenched force of regulars, Overton. By a rush they could have taken the house before we arrived, but I fancy that the first attack was made only as a bluff. They hoped to be able to scare Mr. Seaforth into paying the blackmail their datto had demanded. Now that the troops are here, they realize that their bluff has been met, and that they've got to fight or quit. I believe that the chances are about even on fight or quit. I'd like to hurry up their quitting by a charge, but it might cost us some men, and my orders go only as far as defending the plantation and the white people here. Sergeant, I have about decided to send a report to Captain Cortland. I believe it would be safer to send one or two soldiers, if they're the right kind of men, than to send a detachment. A detachment would be almost certain to be attacked on the way. Two or three bright men might slip away unseen, and get word to the captain and back to me. You know the men better than I do. Whom do you suggest?"

"I'd like to go myself, sir," proposed Sergeant Hal, his eyes blazing with eagerness.

"Absolutely out of the question, Sergeant. You're second in command here, and there's no knowing at what moment I may be hit. Who's a good man, outside of yourself?"

"Private Kelly."

"Send for him."

Kelly lost no time in reporting.

"Private Kelly, do you think you can slip through the enemy's lines and carry a message from me to Captain Cortland?"

"I can, if any man in B Company can, sir," replied the soldier promptly, though without excitement.

"Who is the man you'd like best to have with you?"

"Slosson, sir."

"See if he wants the detail. I prefer that this shall be volunteer work."

In a few minutes Kelly returned, accompanied by Slosson.

"Do you want to go, Slosson?" inquired Lieutenant Prescott.

"Yes, sir," responded the soldier promptly.

"It's an extra-dangerous detail, and you may lose your life."

"I'll chance it, sir. I broke my pipe in one of the rushes here, and I want to get back to barracks and get another."

Lieutenant Prescott could not repress a laugh over such a reason. Slosson joined in, good-humoredly and respectfully.

"Very good; you two men report here in half an hour and I'll have my message ready. Better fill your canteens with coffee before you start. Take nothing else but your cartridge belts, rifles and bayonets."

"Very good, sir," answered both soldiers, saluting and withdrawing.

Punctual to the moment, both men were back again. Lieutenant Prescott had prepared his report, which he handed to Kelly, who fastened it in an inner pocket with a safety pin.

"Now, you'll want to start at once, for it won't be safe to return here later than just before the coming of dawn," said Lieutenant Prescott.

"Yes, sir," answered both men coolly.

"Take care of yourselves, men!"

"Yes, sir."

"We'll watch and listen until you get safely away. If any trouble starts near here hold your ground and rely upon my sending men to your aid."

"Very good, sir."

Lieutenant Prescott and Sergeant Overton watched the two soldiers step over the entrenchment, crouch, and vanish into the darkness.

"I hope they get through," sighed the young officer. "By the way, Sergeant, from the fact of your recommending the men I didn't ask you whether either man is likely to drink any intoxicant at Bontac and unfit himself for the return."

"Neither man touches liquor, sir."

"Then they're to be depended upon. I never trust work of importance to a man who drinks."

"There's a bed in the house for you, whenever you wish it to-night," announced Mr. Seaforth, stepping outside.

"Thank you, sir, but when in the field I sleep with my men. I shall spread my poncho and blanket on the ground presently. Sergeant Overton, I leave you in command until half past one in the morning. At that hour rouse me, report, and then turn in yourself."

"Very good, sir."

"Of course, if anything turns up in the meantime, you'll call me."

"Yes, sir."

For some minutes more the two young Americans stood listening for sounds of possible trouble which Kelly and Slosson might have encountered. Then the lieutenant spread his bed and lay down without removing any of his clothing, placing his revolver beside him on the ground.

Hal set guards on all sides, while the rest of the men turned in, which they were glad to do.

Another army now invaded them! Mosquitoes-myriads of them-buzzed busily about, seeking whom they might devour! The mosquito of the Philippines is well entitled to be called an insect of prey. He is a big fellow, tireless, always hungry and a valiant fighter. The men who lay on the ground carefully wrapped themselves in their blankets, with their hands tucked in. Their heads and necks were protected by collapsible nets that they had taken from their haversacks.

For those who were up and on duty the torment of the flying pests was acute. There was little danger of a sentry going to sleep without a head net and some protection for his hands.

"Ain't it awful, Sarge?" demanded Private Bender, as Hal paused near him.

"That word isn't strong enough," grinned Hal ruefully, as he "swatted" at mosquitoes three times in quick succession.

"I don't mind the Moros," continued Bender, "and I try to be a good soldier, but I'm afraid I'd surrender to the 'skeets' if they had intelligence enough to recognize the white flag."

"We get only two years of this at a time," laughed Sergeant Hal. "Then we can go back to the United States for a vacation."

"I used to think, back in God's country, that a soldier's day and night were full of work," remarked Bender wistfully; "but I'd rather go

back there and go to work than have to stand these 'skeets.'"

"They're not so bad in barracks," Hal answered. "It's only in the field that the pests can torment us like this."

"From present signs," commented Private Bender, "I'm thinking that we'll put in a large part of our two years in the field. These Moros are ugly and determined when they get started."

"They're not bothering us much just now," replied Hal, as he started on his round of inspection.

Nine o'clock came and passed. Not a shot had been fired since late in the afternoon. Nor had there been any sound to indicate that Kelly or Slosson had encountered trouble near the plantation. Now that he was in command, Overton did not allow himself to be lulled into indifference by the stillness of the dark night. A sleeping volcano might start into eruption at any moment. At every important point along the trenches Hal paused, using the night glass that the lieutenant had loaned him.

Ten o'clock came and passed without trouble. Then eleven and finally midnight passed. Sergeant Hal, however, was not to be caught napping. He resolved to be vigilant until Lieutenant Prescott relieved him.

Hal had just glanced again at his watch, noting that the hour was nearly one, when a quiet voice reached him:

"Private Bender calls the sergeant!"

Hal Overton ran quickly around to the place where Bender stood peering off into the darkness.

"Use your glass yonder, Sarge," urged the soldier. "See if you see anything moving."

"I do," Hal answered quietly. "I see figures crawling out of the woods, headed this way. Pass the word to rouse every man without noise. Then go to Lieutenant Prescott, with my compliments, and report that the enemy seem to be crawling this way."

Barely had Bender disappeared when Lieutenant Prescott came up on a quick trot.

"Starting things, are they, Sergeant?" the officer whispered.

"Here's your glass; look over there, sir."

Lieutenant Prescott looked quietly for a few seconds. Then he turned to whisper:

"Pass quickly along the lines, Sergeant, and order every man to load his magazine. Instruct the squad leaders not to let their men get rattled and shoot too soon or too fast. This move may be only a ruse."

Bringing his hand smartly to the brim of his campaign hat, Sergeant Overton was off with the orders. He soon returned, however, and took up his position beside the lieutenant.

Then, in a twinkling, scattering Moro volleys sounded on the other side of the house, followed by wild, savage yells.

"That's probably a ruse to draw us around there," muttered Prescott. "Sergeant Dinsmore is there in charge, and he'll know what to do. Good! He's attending to it."

For now the sharper tones of the Army rifles began to rip out on the further side of the house.

Suddenly another volley of shots rang out on the near side of the house, showers of bullets driving in.

"Lie down, Sergeant!" ordered Lieutenant Prescott, falling back.

"Are you hit, sir?" asked Hal anxiously.

"No, no; look after your fire control. Let your men fire whenever they see anything to hit, but not in volleys. Shoot sharp, men!"

Hal's regulars, crouching in the trench, needed no further orders. They could now see, dimly, the figures of the oncoming Moros, advancing by rushes.

The enemy's fire became so heavy that Lieutenant Prescott decided it to be an act of prudence to crouch down himself, though he lay against the trench wall, his head and arms fully exposed as he kept the night glass to his eyes.

"Low aim, men!" warned Hal, as he passed behind the firing line. "Careful with every cartridge. Every brown man you hit is one less to meet with cold steel!"

This is one of the first lessons that the soldier must learn on the firing line. Every cartridge that he fires needlessly means one less shot with which to defend himself. Every man he hits is one less to be reckoned with later.

"Don't fire heavily until the rascals get nearer," was Sergeant Hal's next warning. "Those fellows are not very dangerous until they get close. Then we'll have need of cool gun barrels and plenty of cartridges. Steady!"

"That boy has the making of a commander in him," thought Lieutenant Prescott approvingly. "He's cool and all business. The only thing in the world that he's thinking of is how to make the squad work count. He isn't losing his head."

Night firing is always uncertain. It is too dark to see the end sight on the rifle and advancing figures show uncertainly, like wavering shadows.

"Don't fire so fast," called Hal, as the rifle work of the troops became more brisk. "Fire just enough to annoy the rascals. Save your real work until the enemy are within a hundred and fifty yards."

"Whee! When the goo-goos get that close they'll jump in and scalp us!" muttered a young soldier nervously.

Hal crouched beside the young soldier, resting a hand on his shoulder.

"Don't get nervous, Hunter," urged the young sergeant kindly. "Leave all emotion and quivers for the volunteers and for civilians. The regulars have smaller losses in battle because they depend upon their leaders and do just what they're told. Remember it, lad."

Then Hal was gone, but Hunter found himself flushing a little, yet wonderfully steady in his nerves. He shot carefully, sighting as best he could for every shot.

After another rush, during which they yelled like fiends, the Moros dropped to earth and began firing more heavily.

During that brief rush, however, the Moros lost several men, dropped by Yankee bullets.

"Cease firing and cool your rifles!" shouted Lieutenant Prescott. "Load your magazines, and be ready to drop 'em when they try another rush."

A minute later Datto Hakkut's followers discovered that the American fire had ceased. Yelling, the brown men rose and charged like a cyclone.

"Begin firing! Give it to 'em-hot!" shouted the young officer, leading the firing coolly with his revolver.

Again the Moros dropped to earth, though not until they had lost a score of men. For a few moments they lay there, not attempting to keep up much of a fire, for now that they were close to Uncle Sam's regulars, who were firing steadily, it would have been suicide for a brown man to raise his head at all.

"Ta-ra-ta-ra-ta!" The bugler, sticking close to the officer, had to sound the order this time, for the cessation of firing.

"Every man lay his bayonet in front of him, ready to fix!" called Lieutenant Prescott, as the pop-pop-popping began to cease.

That meant cold steel-the final rush in which the regulars must meet several times their own number in deadly hand-to-hand conflict.

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