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   Chapter 20 CORPORAL DUXBRIDGE'S MISTAKE

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 13578

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Fortunately there was water, a clear, cool spring of it just below the trench line. As soon as the men were rested, Captain Freeman detailed a score of them to haul water up into camp.

"Don't get into groups, you water carriers, either," Lieutenant Prescott called after the men as they started down the slope with buckets. "Keep apart. If you don't, some of the Moros in the distance will be taking pot-shots and getting some of you."

The day wore on, and it looked as though the Moros were still running.

"I'd hate to have to take ten men and fight all of the enemy who are within two thousand yards of here," declared Captain Freeman in the hearing of a large part of his command. "The datto has us all in a bunch and he'll hang to us until he has wiped us out."

"I don't believe he can do it, sir," retorted Lieutenant Greg Holmes.

"No; but the brown rascal thinks he can, which amounts to the same thing as far as he is concerned. Mr. Holmes, you may safely take my word for it that the datto has made up his own mind not to allow one of us ever to get back in safety to Bantoc.

Late in the afternoon the five soldiers who had been slain were placed in a row at the top of the hill.

"Too bad we haven't a Flag to drape the poor fellows with," said Captain Freeman sorrowfully.

"We have a Flag with us, sir," spoke up Hal, saluting.

"Where is it, Sergeant?"

"In a small parcel in one of the ammunition wagons, sir."

"How does it happen to be there, Sergeant?"

"I put it in myself, sir. It's the Flag that the Moros hauled down from the flagstaff over the schoolhouse near Seaforth's-the Flag they slashed and danced upon. I picked it up at that time, sir; and when we started on this expedition I placed the Flag in one of the wagons."

"Why did you do that, Sergeant?"

"Because I was in hopes that before we get through with this expedition, sir, we'd find a chance to make Datto Hakkut and his men salute the American Flag."

"Bring the Flag here, Sergeant."

Hal brought it, and its tattered folds were so laid that some remnant of the bunting touched each of the five bodies of the slain soldiers.

Assembling half his command, while the other half watched in the trenches, Captain Freeman read the prayers and the service for the dead. Three volleys were fired over the graves after the slain men had been laid in them. Bugler Swanson blew "taps," after which the graves were carefully filled and the tops sodded so that roving Moros would not afterwards find and desecrate these graves, sacred to the American people. All in good time the American military authorities would send and exhume these remains, transferring them to marked resting places in military cemeteries.

Before supper Captain Freeman summoned his two officers in council with him.

"I want to talk with you young gentlemen," began the captain, "for the reason that, of course, by the fortunes of war, I may be removed at any moment. If anything happens to me Mr. Prescott is to be regarded as ranking officer. Now, I want you both to understand my plan in taking up my position on this hill. Do either of you guess it?"

"I think I do, sir," replied Lieutenant Prescott, after a pause.

"Very good, Mr. Prescott. What is my reason?"

"You were sent out, sir, to meet Datto Hakkut, fight him and disperse his forces."

"Exactly," nodded the captain.

"This hill, sir, will be a hard nut for the brown men to crack. If he hopes to do it, Hakkut must get every available fighting man here on the spot."

"You're right," nodded Freeman.

"Thus, sir, you hope to force Hakkut to concentrate his whole fighting force in this immediate country. If you get all the rascals in front of you you'll have them all in one lot to whip."

"You've fathomed my plan very easily, Mr. Prescott, and you've exactly stated it. Now, though I shall take pains to be sure that the Moros remain in this neighborhood, I shall not force any very hard fighting for two or three days. Our rations will last longer than that, with care. After I've given Hakkut time enough to get his whole crew together then I shall go after them as hard as I can considering the size of this force. Also, by waiting, we shall give several of our wounded men time to get back into fighting condition."

"But what, sir," broke in Lieutenant Holmes, "if the datto takes your negative course for a confession of weakness, and attempts to carry this hill by assault?"

"Answer that, if you can, Mr. Prescott," directed Captain Freeman, turning to the other West Pointer.

"Why, I imagine, sir, that you hope your seeming inactivity will provoke Hakkut into trying to carry this hill by assault. This hill, defended by regulars, will be no easy place to take from us, and Hakkut will lose so many of his men that the experience will be a good lesson for him."

"That's the idea," nodded the commanding officer. "Now, gentlemen, you understand the plan thus far. But there's another important point to remember. If we are cooped up here for very many days, then the men will have nothing left to eat but grass and gravel. So you will understand that, presently, it is going to be a matter of prime necessity for us to be able to leave here and forage. Therefore, during our comparative inactivity, we must provoke Hakkut into as many assaults as possible upon this position. The more attempts he makes the more his fighting men will be demoralized when we at last fight our way through his lines."

During that night no attack was made, and the men had little to do beyond carrying out guard duty. Hakkut had undoubtedly dispatched messengers to bring all possible fighting men to the scene.

Nor in the morning, even two hours after daylight, was there any sign of the enemy. Captain Freeman at last took up his field glass again and intently studied a deep forest some twelve hundred yards below.

"Sergeant Overton!"

"Sir?"

"Have the Gatling and a belt of ammunition brought up."

"Very good, sir."

When the Gatling had been placed, Captain Freeman handed his glass to the young sergeant.

"Overton, look through the glass and see if you can discover the line of timber that I'm going to describe to you."

Hal very soon had the spot located.

"Now, Sergeant, sight the Gatling for twelve hundred yards. Do it carefully. When you are ready do what you can to stir up life along that line of timber."

While Sergeant Hal was making ready, Captain Freeman remained attentively watching the timber line through his glass.

R-r-r-r-r-r-rip! Hal served with speed and intensity.

"Just as I thought!" exclaimed the commanding officer. "You've got a line of brown men on the nervous jump down there. Keep it up a little longer, Sergeant. Sweep over a wider are

a."

Then, after a pause:

"Cease firing."

For an hour Captain Freeman let the enemy rest. He was watching other points through his glass. At last he ordered the Gatling into action again. The trick was played a third time that morning, and each time some of the Moros were disturbed.

"That's one of the things I wanted to know," remarked Captain Freeman at last. "Hakkut has this camp completely surrounded, but is keeping his men quiet. I wish we had two or three more Gatlings and a whole wagon load of this special ammunition. We could make it interesting for the goo-goos."

However, the datto made no move to attack, though Captain Freeman believed that the rebel, by this time, must have twelve hundred fighting men, at least, in the forests below.

"Hakkut may realize the difficulty of assaulting us here, and may be waiting for huge reinforcements," Captain Freeman confided to his two lieutenants. "Moreover, I think it extremely likely that we have been caught underestimating the force of the enemy."

"There's one good thing about this style of campaigning, sir," smiled Prescott, "It isn't eating up any more men in casualties."

"No; but the datto is figuring that he's letting us eat up our rations."

There were no attacks that afternoon or evening. The next morning Captain Freeman hesitated as to whether or not he should send out a party in force to "locate and develop" the enemy. But he decided not to do so.

"To-morrow, though," declared the captain to his lieutenants, "we'll break through the line somewhere."

That third night Sergeant Hal was placed in charge of the guard, with Lieutenant Greg Holmes as his direct superior. On the side of camp where the commanding officer thought the enemy most numerous, Hal placed Corporal Duxbridge in charge.

"Don't close your eyes to-night, Corporal," warned the young sergeant. "You can get your sleep in the daytime. This is the point where the greatest vigilance is needed. This point is really the key to the camp, and every man who lies down to sleep to-night leaves his life in your hands."

"All right," replied Corporal Duxbridge in a voice that sounded weary.

"You'll be sure to keep awake?"

"I know my business, Sergeant."

Hal Overton did not particularly like Duxbridge. He belonged to C Company, and was a man subject to occasional fits of crankiness. But Duxbridge, as well as the others, had his share of duty to perform.

Late that night one of the men of the guard, stationed not far from Duxbridge, thought that he heard a slight noise down the slope. He listened only a moment, then felt sure that he had espied a figure crawling along further down the slope.

"Halt!" called the soldier. "Halt or I'll fire. Who's there?"

"A friend," came the answer in perfectly good English. "For Heaven's sake don't fire. We've had enough of horrors with the fiends below. Where's Corporal Duxbridge? He knows me."

"Corporal Duxbridge is on duty at this point," returned the soldier. "How many of you are there?"

"Seven; but I will come up alone first and speak with the corporal."

Duxbridge was called quietly. The corporal had been dozing for twenty minutes, and he awoke with mind somewhat befogged.

The stranger below, who had been allowed to advance, now stepped up to where the corporal could scrutinize him.

"Why, I know this man," declared the corporal. "His name's Eusebio Davo. He's a wealthy Tagalo, loyal to the government and a good man. What's the trouble, Se?or Davo?"

"Corporal, I went south in the island to pick up some laborers from the Manobo tribe. I got forty together and was on my way through this country, not knowing that the Moros were out. So we were caught, this afternoon, and taken before the Datto Hakkut. He ordered us into his ranks to fight. We demurred, and four of my fellows were cut down before my eyes. Then we accepted arms. But to-night we tried to creep through the datto's lines and get here. All but the six men with me were caught, and their fate must have been awful."

Se?or Davo shuddered, then went on:

"I come to beseech you that you allow my poor fellows to come inside your lines. You know me, Corporal, and know that we're all right."

"Yes, bring your men inside our line," decided Corporal Duxbridge. "I'll vouch for you, Se?or Davo, to our commanding officer."

Protesting his undying gratitude, Davo went below for his men, and brought them inside the lines, a sorry looking lot of fellows who at once threw themselves down as if to sleep.

"You'll notify Sergeant Overton, of course?" suggested the soldier who had first halted Davo.

"You mind your business, Strong," Corporal Duxbridge rebuked him. "I'll notify the sergeant in good time."

But Hal, as it happened, was nearer than had been imagined. Unobserved he had listened to the whole conversation. Now, Overton hastened silently away, awaking Lieutenant Holmes and ten soldiers. Without undue haste these marched down on Duxbridge's station.

"Halt! Who goes there?"

"The officer of the day and the sergeant of the guard," came the response, in Lieutenant Holmes's crisp tones.

"Advance, sir."

The seven new arrivals lay on the ground, apparently sound asleep. Davo had his hat over his face, and was snoring lightly.

"Who are these new men in camp, Corporal?" demanded Holmes sharply.

"Fugitives from the datto's lines, sir. I was about to notify the sergeant of the guard, sir."

"Don't let them get away," spoke Hal quickly to the men, "and remember that they're armed with steel! This fellow, who calls himself Davo is Vicente Tomba, a Tagalo who is right-hand man to the datto," added the sergeant, bending and snatching the hat from the Tagalo's face.

It was truly Tomba, who, with a snarl, leaped to his feet ere Hal Overton could grab him.

"Shoot him!" ordered Lieutenant Holmes, as Tomba went over the trench and down the slope at sprinting speed. Three or four rifles spoke, but Tomba escaped in the darkness.

Not so, however, with the men Tomba had brought with him. Not one of them escaped. All were stretched on the ground senseless, having been clubbed with the butts of the soldiers' rifles. Then, a quick search under the shirt of each of the rascals, revealed a creese with blade ground to a razor edge.

"You see, Corporal," ripped out Sergeant Hal, "these scoundrels were going to watch their chance to knife you all in the dark. Then the Moros would have rushed in at this point, and--"

Hal's prediction was verified, at that instant, by the breaking out of a fiendish chorus of yells down the slope. The Moros, waiting below, were advancing to a night attack.

"Bugler of the guard! Sound the general alarm!" roared out Lieutenant Holmes's steady tones.

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