MoboReader > Literature > Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche

   Chapter 21 SCOUTING IN DEADLY EARNEST

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 9334

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It was a ferocious attack, promptly and staunchly met.

Soldiers in the field on campaign sleep in their full clothing, their rifles at their sides. It takes not more than ten seconds to turn a soldier out in the night, fully awake and ready for orders. The knowledge that their lives depend upon their promptness keeps the men in condition for quick obedience.

Even the Gatling was ready at the top of the hill. From point to point it was dragged, and wherever it was served the midnight assailants soon drew back.

For twenty minutes the conflict was kept up, often at closest quarters. But at last the sounding of the Moro horns in the rear called off the assailants, who fled in the darkness.

"How did this all happen, Mr. Holmes?" asked Captain Freeman. "I must congratulate you on being alert and ready for the brown men."

"Sergeant Overton had just called me, sir. And I think you will wish to hear what he has to say."

Hal was sent for and reported instantly.

"I know, now, sir, why Tomba wanted to make my acquaintance, and that of Sergeant Terry, sir," Hal explained, and then told what had happened.

"How did Corporal Duxbridge ever happen to do a thing like that?" demanded Freeman angrily.

"Tomba had already made the Corporal's acquaintance, sir. Tomba wanted to make mine, and Terry's, as soon as he knew the Thirty-fourth was coming to these southern islands. It was Tomba's belief that he could run a gang of creese men past us, and get inside where he could knife the nearest soldiers, and then let an attacking party in."

"If the Moros had ever gotten through our line they'd have wiped the camp out to-night," exclaimed Captain Freeman.

"Of course they would, sir, and that is the way in which Tomba, even in Manila, had planned to make our acquaintance, and use it for just such an undertaking as to-night's. It seems, sir, that having failed with us, he succeeded in getting on the right side of Corporal Duxbridge."

"Where, I wonder?" muttered the captain. "And where is the Corporal?"

"Just taken up above with the wounded, sir," replied Lieutenant Holmes. "Corporal Duxbridge was hit, sir."

"Let us go up to see him. Where are the six natives?"

"Tied, sir, and up with the wounded."

Corporal Duxbridge, when the commanding officer visited him, felt sheepish enough, despite the great pain he was in. He now readily explained how Tomba, under the assumed name of Davo, had made his acquaintance in Bantoc. Tomba had spent money so freely in entertaining him that Duxbridge had been certain that the man must be a wealthy, good-natured Tagalo.

"I hope you've learned a lesson, Corporal," said Captain Freeman sadly. "You're one of five wounded in to-night's performance, and two of our finest men are dead."

Corporal Duxbridge covered his face with his hands.

"I was a big fool," he confessed brokenly.

There were no more attacks that night, but in the morning the Moros developed a new style of trouble. All through the day, from one point or another, they kept the American trenches under fire at frequent intervals. Captain Freeman, however, refused to allow his men to waste ammunition. They must not fire until the brown men attempted an assault.

That night only half rations were served to the defenders of the hill. There was but little food left. During the night there were three assaults against the force on the hill, though none of them were desperately fought.

"Hakkut is going to adopt a new trick of keeping us awake day and night," muttered Captain Freeman grimly.

The next day there was more annoying firing against the trenches, though the Moros had learned their lesson too well to attempt any rushes during daylight.

Just after dark, that evening, Captain Freeman sent for his officers. He also allowed Hal and Noll and two sergeants from C Company to be on hand to hear the discussion.

"To-morrow night, at the latest, we've got to fight our way out of here," announced Captain Freeman. "To remain here later than to-morrow night will be to invite starvation-which, in our position, means nothing less than destruction. I fear, too, that we shall be obliged to abandon our transport wagons. Our wounded we can carry on stretchers made with poles and blankets. There must be some point in the Moro line where we can break through-some point so weakly guarded that we can be on our way before the brown rascals can gather in force enough to put up a hard fight. This fact can be determined only through the work of a scouting party."

"I shall be delighted, sir, to volunteer for scouting duty," spoke up Lieutenant Prescott.

"And I also, sir," ad

ded Lieutenant Holmes.

"Thank you. I knew that you would both be ready," replied the commanding officer. "Yet we must remember that, while our scouts are out to-night, this camp is also extremely liable to attack. If the latter be the case, I do not see how I can spare either of my officers. Now, I have cause to remember a time when, in the mountains of Colorado, when on practice field duty, two of our non-commissioned officers especially distinguished themselves as scouts. I believe that both of the young men still possess that ability in marked degree. It seems to me that the choice of a leader for a scouting party lies between Sergeants Overton and Terry."

"Thank you, sir," broke in Sergeant Hal gravely. "May I suggest, sir, that there is no need of making a choice between us? I would like to go on this duty, sir, and I'd rather have Sergeant Terry with me than any other enlisted man in the regiment."

"I'm ready, sir," declared Noll promptly.

"It seems almost foolish to allow two such excellent sergeants to go," returned Captain Freeman gravely. "You see, we need as good men in the camp as we do outside of it. However, let it be as you wish, Sergeant Overton. How many men do you think you will need with you?"

"None, sir, except Sergeant Terry," spoke Hal.

"Are two enough for safety, Sergeant, in your opinion."

"Two men are safer than a dozen on scouting duty, I think, sir. Two men can get through in places where even four men would be caught at it."

"But if caught, two are a small number for defensive purposes."

"There won't be much defense possible, sir, if we're caught; but I think Sergeant Terry agrees with me that we ought not to be caught."

"Will you take your rifle and bayonet, Sergeant?"

"I'd rather not, sir. In fact, the plan that has come into my mind at this moment is for Sergeant Terry and myself to stain our faces and bodies with juice from the berries of the boka bush that is growing inside our lines. Then we'll rob two of the native prisoners of their clothing, under which we can each carry a service revolver and a creese. That is, sir, if you approve my plan."

Captain Freeman was silent for some moments.

"I'm afraid you're planning an especially desperate undertaking, Sergeant Overton. I quite understand your idea in dressing like natives. But if you are seen, you will be spoken to. It will be in the native tongue. What then? You can't answer in native speech."

"But I think, sir," argued Hal, "that you'll agree that there are probably men from several tribes under the datto's command. In that case many different tribal dialects will be spoken. Noll-pardon me, sir-Sergeant Terry and I can answer in any heathen-sounding, guttural sort of words, and look stupid."

"It's quite difficult, my lad, to improvise a pretended language on the spur of the moment."

"Hakka kado me no tonga, lakka prada estig ferente," rejoined Hal Overton, with a grin.

"Dikka mone peditti u nono mate ben," said Noll cheerfully.

"What language is that, lads?" demanded Captain Freeman.

"New Jersey hog-Latin, I imagine, sir," replied Sergeant Hal soberly.

"I do not believe, gentlemen, that we can send better scouts than Sergeants Overton and Terry," said Captain Freeman.

His two subordinates expressed their agreement.

"Sergeants, you may go and prepare yourselves. Do it as speedily as you can, and report to me as soon as you are ready."

There was sullen objection from two of the native prisoners, when their clothing was taken from them. Hal and Noll, however, loaned their blankets in exchange.

"You know, Noll, if we don't succeed to-night, we shall have no further use for our blankets, anyway," Hal remarked dryly.

"I've thought of that," Sergeant Terry nodded.

After they had dyed their skin and hair with the juice of the boka the two Army boys next distributed a liberal amount of dirt on themselves, then drew on the borrowed clothing, consisting only of shirts and short trousers. Inside their clothing each tucked a sharp-edged creese, also a loaded service revolver.

"You'll do, in the dark," nodded Captain Freeman, after looking them over keenly. "Of course, you won't show yourselves in a strong light, anyway. Now, you don't need instructions. You understand your errand."

Captain Freeman himself took the two Army boys through the darkness to the trench.

"I am turning these fellows loose, men," the captain announced. "But don't allow any of the others to go through the lines."

To the captain's relief, the disguises appeared to "work" well in the dark, for the men on guard in the trench merely saluted.

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