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   Chapter 18 SENTRY MIGGS MAKES A GRUESOME FIND

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 11247

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It is not necessary for even the most ardent admirer of Private William Green to feel sorry for the fate of that soldier the next morning after guard-mount at the capable hands of Private Kelly.

Kelly had something else to think about, and so had every other man in the little garrison.

Just before daylight the sentry on number three post had made a horrible discovery. Now that the old guard was relieved, and the new guard was on, the sentry who had made the discovery was able to tell what he knew of it, with such other particulars as had been learned since.

Private Miggs was the sentry in question. Before daylight Miggs had patrolled down to the further end of his post. On his return along post he had discovered something on the ground ahead of him.

When Miggs learned the nature of his discovery he was almost overcome. Being a soldier, he did not faint, but for a few moments he did feel a sensation of nausea.

Then, raising his voice, the sentry called the corporal of the guard to post number three. The corporal and the two members of the guard felt a similar nausea when they arrived on the scene, and it ended in sending for the officer of the day, Lieutenant Dick Prescott.

Without venturing to order the removal of the find, Lieutenant Prescott sent a member of the guard to awaken Captain Cortland.

After the post commander had seen it, the guard removed the ghastly find to the guard house, where it still remained.

What had upset Private Miggs's mental balance was the sight of two severed heads lying on the ground in his path along post. They were the heads of white men.

To each had been tied a piece of coarse paper, and on each paper was rudely traced the likeness of a crab. This crab, as Captain Cortland already knew, was the sign manual of that arch scoundrel of brown skin, the Datto Hakkut. The crab was meant to signify that, while the datto could move forward, he could also crawl sideways or backward-that he was strategist enough to crawl out of any trap that the soldiers might set for him.

As soon as the light came Captain Cortland despatched an armed guard party to bring over to the fort the German physician and three other white residents of Bantoc, to see whether they could identify the severed heads.

The heads proved to be those of two young American doctors of philosophy, Hertford and Sanderson, who had come to Mindanao months before, one for the purpose of securing specimens representing the geological formation of the island, and the other in pursuit of specimens of the plants and flowers.

Despite strong advice to the contrary, as given by the former military commandant at Bantoc, Drs. Hertford and Sanderson, attended only by a small party of natives, had gone into the mountains to gather their specimens. Since then nothing had been heard of the two enthusiastic young scientists-until Sentry Miggs had stumbled upon his gruesome find.

The soldiers discussed little else that morning.

"Of course it was the old brown rascal, Hakkut, who had the young scientific gentlemen killed. Didn't Hakkut have his card tied to each head?" demanded Private Kelly, who was the centre of a group of enlisted men.

The group of officers over in Captain Cortland's office had come to the same conclusion.

"It is the old brown scoundrel's way of showing us his defiance," declared Captain Cortland in a shocked voice. "Why couldn't that pair of enthusiastic boys take good advice and keep out of the mountains? Would their collections of stones and plants be worth as much to any college as the young men's lives would have been worth to themselves?"

"The question is, Cortland, what are we going to do in answer to this defiance?" suggested Captain Freeman, of C Company.

"What are we going to do?" asked Cortland, his face becoming even graver. "We have a very small command here, but there's only one thing we can do. Hakkut has defied us, and, unless he is punished for it, the native respect for American authority in these islands will soon be less than nothing. What are we going to do? There is nothing that we can do but send the strongest column of men that we can spare up into the mountains on the double-quick. We've got to root out that brown scoundrel, and send him and his band running as fast as they can go, or else we shall be forced to admit to the natives that the claim of the American nation to govern Mindanao is only a stupid joke. Our expedition must start before noon!"

"Who will command the column?" inquired Captain Freeman.

"You will command, Freeman. I would give half a year's pay to head the expedition myself, but I am post commander here, and after the greater part of the troops have started the problem here at Bantoc is going to be such a serious one that I feel obliged to remain here and handle it myself."

After thinking a few moments longer, Captain Cortland continued:

"Freeman, you will take sixty men from B Company, and the same number from C Company. I can spare you but two officers, for I shall need the services of Bay and Hampton here. So Holmes will command the C Company detachment, and Prescott the B Company detachment, while you will command the expedition. You will also take one of the two Gatling guns that we have at this post. You will take two wagons for ammunition and one for hospital and similar supplies. Your men will carry such field and emergency rations as you can. For the rest of your food you will have to depend upon the country through which you will pass. I am sorry for this, but on a swift, hard-fighting expedition a command the size of

yours cannot be burdened with more wagons."

"That is true," spoke Captain Freeman thoughtfully. "Well, we shall have to do the best we can with the amount of transport and rations that you can put at our disposal. I am anxious now, sir, to get started with the preparations as rapidly as possible."

"Good; it is half-past nine now. You should be ready to march by--"

"By half-past eleven at the latest," supplied Captain Freeman, rising.

Never were preparations more rushed, nor yet more thoroughly made.

First of all, it was necessary to send into Bantoc and recall Lieutenant Holmes and the guard stationed there. With the removal of the troops the lives of the white people residing in Bantoc would be in immediate danger. So the twenty-five or thirty white residents were obliged to accompany the guard out to Fort Benjamin Franklin, where they were to be provided with temporary quarters.

Ten minutes before the time named by Captain Freeman all had been accomplished. The column was ready and started.

B Company's detachment marched first. Behind this came the transport wagons and the Gatling gun. The C Company detachment, under Lieutenant Greg Holmes, brought up the rear.

Taking into account those who had lately been killed and wounded, and also the guard under Sergeant Dinsmore, left out at the Seaforth plantation, Captain Cortland had remaining as a garrison about sixty effective soldiers. These must preserve the safety of the post and the order of Bantoc through the twenty-four hours of each day.

No soldier in the marching column deluded himself with the belief that he was starting on a brief expedition. Every man knew that it would be weeks before they were likely to set eyes again on Fort Franklin. It was, moreover, wholly probable that some of the soldiers now marching would never see the fort again.

Yet officers and men tramped away unconcernedly. All acted, and felt, very much as though this had been merely a practice march through a peaceful country.

Noll Terry was jubilant. Hal had seen active service on this island, and now his chum was about to do the same thing. The first taste of real service is always dear to the heart of a good soldier.

Night brought the command within three or four miles of the foot of the mountains. The next morning was still young when the column wound its way up into the lower portion of the mountains.

Captain Freeman was not marching blindly. He was provided with military maps of the mountains. Then, again, not all the Moros were hostile to the Americans. There were many friendly natives, and some of them had slyly brought word to the post of the location of Datto Hakkut and his forces at the last report.

As to the number of men with the datto, the statements of the natives had varied. They had estimated the datto's force at all the way from fifteen hundred to twenty-five hundred fighting men. Captains Cortland and Freeman, with their knowledge of the native tendency to exaggerate, had thus fixed the probable number at about eight hundred men.

The second and the third days passed. The troops were now far up in the mountains, though up to that time they had not encountered the enemy. Captain Freeman, however, pushed forward, feeling confident that he would sooner or later encounter the datto's forces.

On the fourth morning, an hour after daylight, the troops were again under way. They moved slowly, for the roads were in bad condition and the column could not go ahead at greater speed than the transport wagons could maintain.

A "point" was out in advance, followed by a slightly larger advance guard. Behind marched a watchful rear guard. The little column, for its own safety and convenience, was strung out over a goodly length of road.

As Lieutenant Prescott passed, Sergeant Noll Terry stepped out and saluted.

"What is it, Sergeant?"

"If it is proper, I would like the lieutenant's permission to go up ahead and walk with Sergeant Overton."

"That will be all right, Sergeant-if you will remember that, in case of emergency, you are to return hastily to your proper place in the line."

"Thank you; I will, sir."

"Very good, Sergeant."

Once more saluting, Noll hastened up forward.

"You have a message?" asked Hal.

"No; but I have the lieutenant's permission to walk with you."

"I'm glad of it, chum. Talking makes the walking easier."

"Walking-yes," grumbled Noll. "I'm afraid that's about all we're going to get out of this hike."

"Never pray for a fight, Noll. It's all right when it has to be, but any real fight always means the last hour for some good fellows."

"I'm no hog for a fight," grunted Terry, "but I'd like to have just a little real practice, after the long, long time I've had to put in preparing for it."

"Hm!" smiled Sergeant Hal. "I could almost qualify as a member of a peace society. I don't care how long it is before the next fight. I'd hate to see it come along this stretch of road."

"Why?"

"Well, look over at our left, Noll. Below us is a deep gully, with a swift stream flowing. Beyond it is that wooded ledge. Any number of Moros could conceal themselves there and fire at us, and we couldn't reach 'em with the bayonet. Ahead--"

Sergeant Hal may have finished, but, if he did, his voice was drowned out by the savage clamor of yells ahead. Barely a hundred yards beyond the point came a rushing mob of Moros, shooting and brandishing creeses.

From the wooded, inaccessible ledge to the left came a sudden, rapid firing that made the air hot with bullets directed at Uncle Sam's men.

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