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   Chapter 23 DOOMING THE DATTO

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops / Or, Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 11651

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Noll, you remember the first sentry inside the gully at this end?"

"Yes."

"Have you the nerve to stay near him while I try to get back to camp alone?"

"I have nerve enough to do anything that a soldier may be called upon to do."

"I was sure of it," Hal replied.

"But what's the game?"

"You are to keep close to that sentry until just before daylight," continued Hal. "Then, if nothing happens, slip out and make your way back to camp as best you can. But if Captain Freeman allows me to lead the expedition through that gully, you are to be on hand to silence that sentry at the first sound of our coming."

"I think I can do that," Sergeant Terry replied thoughtfully. "I'll either win out or give up my life without a murmur."

"Noll, if you prefer it, you can try to reach camp, and I'll stay by that first sentry inside the gully."

"No, Hal; I think you are far more apt to succeed in reaching camp than I. I'm satisfied with the second part in the game. Both parts are big enough."

"Very well! Good-bye, chum. Take care of yourself!"

They had yet a little distance to go before they came upon the Moro sentry beyond the inner mouth of the gully. As they approached him they strolled along in leisurely fashion.

The sentry, who appeared to be a good-natured, rather stupid fellow, surveyed the chums with a grin. He pointed to the sky, then made a motion of shivering. Clearly this native believed the pretended brown men to be foolish fellows for remaining out in such a downpour.

"Hastu maki not," observed Hal.

"No beni," replied Noll, and Hal stepped away in the darkness. He did not appear to be headed for the gully, but Noll distracted the attention of the sentry for a few moments, and out of the corner of his eye Terry caught a glimpse of Hal's body moving into the mouth of the gully.

A moment later Hal was out of sight and sound. Noll and the sentry stood side by side. Presently, as neither could understand the other's speech, Noll and the Moro fell to "conversing" by means of signs. Yet, in this line, they could go little beyond the weather. Noll presently made a hit with the real brown man by shaking his fist in the direction of the American camp, then drawing his hand across his throat with an eloquent gesture of throat-cutting.

Sergeant Hal Overton not only got out of the gully, but also satisfied himself that the slopes were not guarded.

"As the gully looks like a natural trap, and the datto has at least four hundred men between himself and the gully, I suppose old Hakkut is not worrying a great deal," reflected Overton.

Hal did not now trouble himself to move so stealthily, until he neared the American encampment. With noiseless step he approached and called out in the darkness:

"Officer of the day!"

"Halt! Who goes there?" called an alert soldier.

"Sergeant Overton, in scout disguise," Hal returned. "I wish to return to camp."

"Advance, Sergeant Overton, to be recognized."

Thus assured that he would not be shot down by mistake, Hal walked slowly but openly in the direction of the voice from the trench.

"If you can recognize me, Galbraith, you're a wonder," laughed Hal, as he came within the soldier's range of vision.

"You, Sergeant Overton. Great Scott, I don't recognize anything but the voice. I know that, however; pass on, Sergeant."

Hal went at once to Captain Freeman, whom, however, he had to awaken. Lieutenants Prescott and Holmes were quickly added to the lightning conference that followed.

The officers listened almost in amazement to the yarn that Sergeant Overton rapidly spun for them.

"We made no mistake in detailing you two sergeants to investigate the position of the enemy," remarked Captain Freeman warmly. "Now our course is clear. You understand my plan, gentlemen?"

The two young lieutenants quickly assented.

"We shall have to abandon our transport wagons, though I think we shall have no difficulty in recovering them later," went on the commanding officer. "Waken all the men, and have each man carry as much ammunition as he can pack. The Gatling gun goes with us, of course."

"And the wounded men, sir?" asked Lieutenant Prescott.

"Those still unable to walk will have to be carried on the same blanket stretchers. Caution these wounded men that, no matter what discomfort they may suffer on the trip, not one is to make a sound. Our lives are at stake. Now hustle, gentlemen! We must march from this position in less than twenty minutes."

"And the prisoners, sir?" asked Lieutenant Greg Holmes.

"Bind the prisoners and gag them, and do it effectively. We can't trust a prisoner on a dash like this. Leave them behind, but be sure that they can't effect their own escape. Gentlemen, I look to your effective aid in playing a most brilliant trick on the enemy."

Twelve minutes later the column started. They moved in three bodies. In advance were twelve picked men of B Company, under Sergeant Overton. Captain Freeman accompanied this little advance guard.

At a suitable interval behind marched fifty men under Lieutenant Prescott.

Last of all Lieutenant Holmes headed the remainder of the expedition. With this rear guard marched such of the wounded men as were able to walk. The others of the wounded were carried on blanket stretchers.

Silently, like a procession of ghosts, moved the American troops. The rain had moderated to a drizzle, but there was no star in sight to throw the least ray of light over the tropical scene.

Almost as straight as a bullet could have been fired Sergeant Hal led the advance guard to the mouth of the gully. There was no challenge, no shot fired by the enemy. A minute's halt; then the advance guard quickly followed Sergeant Overton into the gully, Captain Freeman stepping just behind the lea

der.

When they were two thirds of the way through, Sergeant Hal, who was still in his native costume, held up his hand as a signal to halt. The signal was passed back through the advance.

"I think you'd better wait here a few minutes, sir," whispered Hal to the commanding officer. "I'll hand my rifle to one of the men and then stroll forward to see if the coast is clear."

"A good plan, Sergeant; but take mighty good care of yourself!"

"Yes, sir. If you hear sounds of trouble up ahead then I suppose you'll push right on through."

"If there's any sound of trouble, whatever, Sergeant, you can depend upon our rushing through."

Saluting, Overton turned and slowly vanished into the darkness ahead. Just as he came out of the gully Hal heard a cautious, warning:

"Sh-sh!"

The muzzle of a rifle was thrust to his breast.

"Noll?" whispered Hal.

"Yes," whispered Terry.

"Where's the real sentry at this point?" breathed Hal.

"The poor fellow was chilled through. I got chummy with him, talking sign language, and then volunteered to stand duty for him. The Moro has gone off to take a sleep where it's drier."

"Bully, old Noll!"

"The troops are behind you, Hal?"

"Yes."

"Then march them ahead straight on for a hundred yards due west. You won't run into any of the enemy there. I've made it my business to know."

Hal flew back to the advance guard.

"Fine!" glowed Captain Freeman, when he had heard the report.

The advance was quickly in motion. Captain Freeman was soon up with Noll, who, after whispering, led the advance to the point he had mentioned to his chum. Hal, in the meantime, remained to receive and pilot Lieutenant Prescott's command.

"How on earth did you do this?" demanded Prescott in a whisper.

"Some of Sergeant Terry's work, sir," whispered Hal. "When you're ready, sir, just keep on straight ahead until you come upon the advance. I'll remain here, sir, if you permit, to warn the men behind you that they're marching inside the Moros' lines."

"Do so, Sergeant," directed Lieutenant Prescott, at the same time making the motion for his men to move ahead. On came the rest of the command in single file.

"Softly," warned Hal, as the men passed by him. "You're inside the enemy's lines."

Then, as the last man passed him, Hal whispered:

"Fall out, Gleason. Remain here to warn the rear guard when it arrives."

"All right, Sergeant. But this kind of work in the dark makes one creepy. I feel as though I were robbing a judge's chicken-roost."

Hal laughed softly and hurried after the vanishing troops. Within a few minutes more the rear guard had arrived.

By this time the rain had begun to come down again in torrents, but this favored the work of the American troops.

Led by the two young scouts, the entire command managed to advance, undetected, to a point from which Captain Freeman could dimly make out the mud walls of the datto's fort.

"Take the same twelve men of the advance guard, Sergeant Overton," whispered Captain Freeman, after he had given directions regarding the carrying of the wounded so that they would be as well protected as possible from slashing by Moro swords or creeses during the attack about to be made. "With your men, Sergeant, gain the gate of the fort. Remember, at no matter what cost, you must get your party inside and hold the gate. We'll be on the spot the moment we hear the first sound of your attack."

"Now, then, men," Hal instructed his own detachment, "we won't march forward, and we won't skulk, either. We'll simply stroll along. The instant that I hear any sound showing that we're discovered, I'll give the order to charge. When that order comes-remember that we simply must fight our way through the gate of the fort."

Then he gave the order for the forward movement. Hal placed himself at the head of his detachment, the post of greatest danger.

It was raining so heavily that even the guards at the datto's gate had relaxed their vigilance.

So Sergeant Hal Overton was within thirty feet of the gate when one of the six sentries, peering outside, caught sight of him, yelled and held his rifle at aim.

"Detachment charge!" yelled Sergeant Hal Overton.

With a low-uttered yet enthusiastic yell the twelve regulars piled in after their sergeant.

There was short, sharp firing at the gate. Then the Americans drove that guard in, killing four of them and holding the gate.

Now there was wild yelling inside the fort. Lights flashed from the principal building in the enclosure. Sergeant Hal waited only long enough to realize that Lieutenant Prescott's command had come up when he shouted to his own men:

"Follow me to the datto's house! He's the fellow we want."

Fifty natives howling wildly had thrown themselves around the house of the Datto Hakkut and had opened fire on the soldiers by the time that Hal and his few men reached the spot.

"Fight your way through 'em, men!" commanded Hal.

"Bring your men back, Sergeant!" shouted Captain Freeman in Hal's ear. "We've got the Gatling ready. I'll show you something better."

Swiftly the regulars dodged back. Sergeant Noll was at the breech of the Gatling.

R-r-r-r-rip! rattled out that rapid-fire machine, and the fire swept mercilessly into the ranks of those who defended the datto.

Lieutenant Holmes had gotten the wounded inside the walls. Now, with his efficient men he had turned to guard the gate, for outside, hundreds of frantically-yelling Moro fanatics had gathered for the attack on the invaders.

Into the closely packed ranks of the brown men who sought to defend the datto's house the Gatling poured its raking fire with fearful effect.

Whatever the issue of this madly fought battle, it began to look as though the Datto Hakkut were doomed.

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