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C H A P T E R X V I
On the Firing Line in the Philippines
THERE were days in hoary Manila, before the little brown men began to retreat over the hot rice fields and through the green bamboo jungles, when our army lay in the trenches around the scorching city, a semicircle of misery twenty miles long, harassed night and day by the watchful insurgent sharpshooters -- days of strain when a craven-hearted policy and a wooden-headed military censorship prevented the war correspondents in the Philippines from giving the American Congress and the American people a hint of the secrets of that strange scene.
It was a time when the startled native looked with wondering eyes upon the flag that was borne across the Pacific as a promise of liberty; when the race that had not yet learned to tuck its shirt inside of its trousers had at least learned to look to America as the great protagonist of human rights, and had eagerly copied its songs of freedom. Aguinaldo strutted among his generals at Malolos. Otis dawdled at his desk in Manila. The two armies faced each other and waited. No word of surrender from Malolos. No word of conciliation from Washington. The correspondents in the iron grip of the censor.
Yet one afternoon the two peoples spoke to each other across the cruel barrier of race and language, and I, looking on, heard the voice in which age speaks to age.
It was one of those spectacles in which the souls of men rise mysteriously into concord above the clamors and hatreds of war, touched by the central flame of universal brotherhood.
The Kansas regiment occupied the trenches on the left of our line, and Colonel Funston, the gamecock of the army, had kept his men close to their work. It was a perilous position, for just beyond the screen of trees, on the other side of an open stretch of rice fields, was massed the main army of the Philippine Republic. The intrenchments of the enemy were so close that we could see them plainly, and the pale blue figures moving here and there in the edge of the woods. On the extreme left were advanced breastworks of sandbags to guard against a "night rush." Behind the Kansas line was a venerable church. The roof was shattered by shells from Dewey's fleet, the chancel rail was converted into a harness rack, and the side altar into a telegraph operator's table, the vast stone floor covered with beds of officers, and the sacred images roughly piled in a distant corner. In front of the church door a cloud of smoke arose from the cook's tent.
The haggard Americans sat or walked in the trenches where they had slept for two weeks without relief. A few looked over the rough brown earthworks at the parched fields shimmering in the fierce sunlight. The weary officers walked up and down the line, scanning the enemy from time to time with their glasses. Occasionally a too venturesome man would attract the attention of the insurgents, and a volley of Mauser bullets would drive him to cover.
An infantry band sent from the city to cheer our tired men lilted gayly in the rear. It was the first music that had been heard there since the outbreak of war between the United States and the Philippine Republic. Now and then a pair of soldiers would waltz to the music in the trench, crouching in fantastic attitudes to avoid the aim of the enemy's marksmen. A few converted their tin cups into drums, and beat time with their knives and forks. Then the music changed from gay to grave. At last the concert was ended and the band marched back to the city.
Suddenly a strain of music was heard from the enemy's line -- sweet, quavering chords that sounded strangely familiar. Instantly every man in the Kansas regiment was alert. There was a roar of laughter in the trenches. The imitative spirit of the Filipinos was the joke of the army.
"By thunder!" yelled a tall Kansan, "they can't even let us have a little music to ourselves. The niggers have brought their band to the front."
"Wonder what in hell they're playing?" cried another. "Bet it's the 'Aguinaldo March.' Listen!"
Across the brown stretch of dead rice came the solemn sound of the hymn, "Stand up for Jesus."
"Nary a stand-up here, with nigger rifles pinted at us," roared the tall Kansan.
"Invitation respectfully declined," shouted the other.
"Better keep down, boys," said an officer, sharply. "It's a trick. They'll open fire in a minute. Don't show your heads."
Still the sound of the stately tune came swelling through the air, now soft and tender, now loud and passionate.
"Stand up! stand up for Jesus,
"Stand up! stand up for Jesus,
There was a sudden silence in the trenches. Memory was at work. It was a voice from home, a message from dear old Kansas, an echo of other days and gentler scenes.
The music ceased. Every man listened. There was a hush in the air, and the descending sun cast long shadows in the field. Through the tangled masses of trees that hid the Philippine musicians, a few figures could be seen moving boldly out on the enemy's works.
Then a beautiful thing happened. From the distant camp came a rolling throb of drums, and the insurgent band swung grandly into "The Star-spangled Banner." There was a moment of yawning surprise, and then the whole Kansas regiment, stretched out for nearly half a mile, leaped from the trenches and stood on top of the earthworks. Every soldier drew his heels together, uncovered, and placed his hat over his left breast. It was the regulation salute to the national anthem. As the music rolled forth, clear, high, splendid, the Kansans straightened themselves and remained motionless while the enemy continued to play the one supreme psalm of America. The whole line was exposed. Not a man carried a weapon in his hand. Yet not a shot was fired. The Filipinos watched the bareheaded American regiment, and played on. It was one of those psychological moments when some profound sentiment unites thousands of hearts; when the pentecostal spirit descends, and the passions of men are stilled in the presence of a common altar.
"Oh say, does the star-spangled banner still wave
"Oh say, does the star-spangled banner still wave
What was it that stirred the insurgent Asiatics to play that anthem? What was it that inspired a whole regiment to bare its breast to the enemy in order to salute the music? What power held the forces of death in leash while Kansan and Malay faced each other that burning day? Why did the rugged men in khaki shed tears? And when the anthem was done, and the splendid line still stood erect and uncovered on the breastworks, why did that roar of applause ascend from the Philippine camp?
Never was there a loftier scene on a field where men were met to shed each other's blood -- a noble challenge, nobly met.
When it was over there was an interval of silence, but as the light died out of the sky, and the stars appeared, the sound of rifles was heard again.
"My heart was in my throat when I heern them play that," said the tall Kansan, as he took careful aim over the earthwork.
I tried to cable a description of that event to my newspaper, but the dull military censor was stony-hearted.
"That's not news," he said, "that's poetry -- and poetry don't go."
* * * * *
Darkness descended on the shrivelled rice fields and green thickets, and the three brigades of McArthur's division stretched out in irregular line, with the centre just in front of the venerable church of La Loma and its war-trampled graveyard; a group of American officers took a last twilight look at the distant intrenchments of Aguinaldo's army from the top of the stone cemetery wall, at the side of which lay a ditchful of bones, leprous white, the relics of generations whose descendants had failed to pay rent for the grisly hospitality of graves. Inside of the massive church walls the flickering light of lanterns and candles fell on rows of tired soldiers sprawled on the stone flooring -- one stalwart fellow snoring peacefully on the high altar itself -- and on the surgeons preparing stretchers and bandages. In the stained and dusty sacristy General McArthur and his staff ate wedges of canned beef and hardtack off a wooden mantel. Everywhere signs of grim preparation for the advance of the whole division at daybreak toward Malolos, the insurgent capital -- war correspondents examining their cameras, chatting with their field couriers, or laughing at the young woman correspondent who had just appeared, artillerymen carrying ammunition for their batteries, the confused sound of passing men and horses. It was to be steady fighting all the way to Malolos, for four rivers and scores of intrenched lines lay across the thirty miles between us and Aguinaldo's seat of government, with twenty thousand or thirty thousand troops -- so our prisoners said -- against our one division.
And yet the young woman persisted in staying. She had come to see the battle open with the dawn, and nothing could induce her to go back to Manila. No one knew much about her except that she was from San Francisco, and was supposed to write occasionally for a California newspaper. Most of the officers had a nodding and some of them a speaking acquaintance with her. But no one could shake her in her determination to stay all night and watch the death-grapple in the morning. Hints were useless. There was no place for her to sleep -- she found two chairs and stretched herself out on them. There was nothing for her to eat -- she produced a sticky lump of chocolate and munched it. There might be a night attack by the enemy -- she drew an army revolver from her pocket. The place was full of tropical fever -- she brought forth some quinine pills, and took a sip of brandy from a dainty cut-glass flask.
Then she shut her teeth hard together, closed her eyes, settled herself down on the two chairs, and ignored the indignant officers, who retreated for consultation. Her small white features were set. She was going to see that fight.
It was a place haunted by memories of Spanish monks and native conspiracy; for the little white-shirted men who knelt at that shrine often carried knives sharpened for the throats of the friars. In the darkness around the church the soldiers moved like phantoms among their horses, and a neglected camp-fire made the shadows of the trees waver on the broken walls. The skulls and bones of the dishonored dead gleamed hideously in the trampled grass.
A lieutenant approached the young woman, and touched her on the shoulder. She looked up without moving. Her ankles were crossed gracefully, her hands were clasped behind her slender neck, and her sailor hat was thrust defiantly over her broad, smooth brow.
"It will be a frightful sight," he said. "I hope you will go back to your hotel. This is no place for you. It is horrible to think of a woman looking at the slaughter of human beings. You cannot imagine how appalling it will be."
She set her hat straight with a coquettish touch and smiled.
"All the better copy for my paper," she answered, with a yawn that showed her pretty teeth. "Besides, it will be a new experience."
"But the danger?"
"The only serious danger that confronts me is the danger that my paper may be beaten. That would be simply frightful." She drew her mouth up in a dainty moue, and stared absently into the night, as if she had forgotten the lieutenant.
The officer made a gesture of despair.
"Have you considered the chances of defeat, of capture?"
"Yes," said the young woman, languidly. "I have considered all, all, all. If I am captured, I will interview Aguinaldo. If I am killed, my paper will print my portrait and a melting account of my death. You cannot frighten me away. I have come to stay."
"But don't you see" -- and he stamped his foot till the spurs jingled -- "that you are a source of embarrassment to us all; that we feel ourselves responsible for your safety; that --"
"Well, I like that!" remarked the young woman, sitting bolt upright, and tossing her little head back. "Who asked any one to be responsible for me?"
She stretched herself out on the chairs again, and closed her eyes. The lump of chocolate rolled from her lap to the ground. The lieutenant picked the clammy fragment up and held it out between his finger tips.
"You -- er -- you dropped this thing," he said.
The eyelids opened, and her dark eyes regarded the outstretched hand for a moment.
"You may keep it," she said, and closed her eyes again, with the shadow of a smile trembling about her mouth.
With an indignant gesture, the lieutenant flung the chocolate against the cemetery wall, and strode back to his fellow officers.
"It's no go," he said. "She's going to stay till the fight opens; she has the cheek of a -- oh, damn her! let somebody else try."
At this point I was requested to use my influence as a newspaper man to remove the young woman from the fighting front of the army.
"Flatter her," suggested the lieutenant. "Lay it on thick -- that generally catches a woman."
"Tell her that her hair is coming out of curl," said a grizzled old captain.
"And that the graveyard air will ruin her complexion," added the lieutenant.
"Oh!" said the young woman, when I explained my mission. "So you would like me to retire and leave the news of the battle to you?"
"Really, nothing was farther from my thoughts than --"
"Oh, of course not. Tricks in all trades but ours. You wouldn't deceive a poor trusting girl, would you?"
She was really beautiful as she lay there in the half-light, mocking me, with her eyes half closed, and her jaunty hat knocked on one side of her head.
"And you are not afraid to look upon the horrors of an actual battlefield, to see men blown limb from limb, perhaps?"
"I am afraid of nothing but my newspaper rivals. Now, please leave me."
She closed her eyes again, and pretended to sleep, but I could see that she was watching me between the soft lashes.
"Infernal cat," growled the lieutenant, when I explained my failure.
Just then we heard a gasp, followed by a scream. The young woman was standing on a chair, with her skirts drawn up, and a look of terror in her face.
"Oh! oh! oh!" she wailed.
"What's the matter?"
"Rats! Two of them! Big, hairy, black rats! There they are now -- oh! oh!"
"Place is full of rats," said the lieutenant, eagerly. "Hundreds of them, thousands of them -- insurgents used to live on them -- tropical rats -- graveyard rats -- worst kind -- they're poisonous -- worse than snakes -- much worse."
"U-u-ugh!" gulped the young woman.
"There is still time to go back to Manila," I suggested.
"If I could only get a horse," she said meekly. "I can't walk back. If I had a horse, I would, I, I" -- oh woman! how hard it is to yield! -- "I think I would go at once."
Ten minutes later we saw her ride out into the road, and turn her horse's head toward Manila.
"Whew!" said the lieutenant; "don't women beat hell? -- face a regiment, but run from a mouse."
* * * * *
We were now in front of Malolos. McArthur's division had swept the army of the Philippine Republic backward for a week, and the stained and weary regiments were standing in the early morning twilight ready for the last charge. They had fought through bamboo jungles, waded rivers and swamps, carried line after line of intrenchments, stormed forts, and tramped over the ashes of burning villages, leaving their dead and wounded behind them.
The seat of the rebel government was now before us, and we could see the roof of "Aguinaldo's palace" -- a monastery attached to a church -- over the green tree-tops.
Right in front of our line was a formidable stretch of bomb-proof earthworks, with clear ground before them. This was to be the scene of the final conflict -- the death-thrust of the war.
Every source of information open to us pointed to one serious fact -- twenty thousand armed Filipinos, led by the terrible little insurgent president and his ablest generals, were in front of us. All the rollicking gayety that hitherto marked the advance of our forces had vanished. Each man seemed to feel that he was standing in the shadow of death. There was a brooding sense of peril in the air.
My veteran field courier, a tall, lank Connecticut Yankee, hung close to me with my horse.
"Might hev t' run," he said. "Ye ben hurt twict on this march, 'n' better look out fer t' third time. Third time's bad luck, 'nless ye've crost a river er seen a black cat. Them there airthwuks 's full er hell 'n' damnation -- jam full er niggers, sure! Dead correspondents ain't no good to newspapers, sure! I'll keep th' hoss clus t' ye as I ken. Don't matter much 'bout me, but ye got t' git yer story t' Manila."
Our skirmish lines began to creep out through the trees to the edge of the open rice fields that lay between us and the great masses of new brown earth, behind which the strength and valor of the insurgent army crouched.
A signal from the general, and our batteries began to rain shells at the enemy s works. Bomb after bomb burst over the breastworks. The little machine gun lent to the army by Admiral Dewey ripped out a stream of bullets.
All was silent in the insurgent line. Not a shot in reply. Not a sign of life. Our guns raked the tops of the ridged mounds in vain. They provoked no reply.
"Cunnin' divils," whispered my courier, as he bit off a piece of plug tobacco and settled it in his cheek. "Goin' t' wait till we git in clost, 'n' throw lead 'nter us 't p'int-blank range."
The bugles sounded loud and harsh. The Kansas regiment moved out into the clear field, with the Third Artillery on the left and the Pennsylvania regiment on the right. A dusty group of war correspondents walked twenty feet behind the Kansans. The sun glared over the bamboo woods to the right where Hale's brigade was silently advancing to flank the enemy. Not a sound disturbed the stillness of the scene but the tread of feet on the burnt grass and irrigation ridges that checkered the fields over which our line pushed on toward the mysterious stronghold.
Once more the bugles rang out, and our regiments threw themselves flat on the hot ground. Colonel Funston and Colonel Hawkins stood on the railway embankment between their commands, and studied the noiseless earthworks through their glasses. It was a nervous situation. We were getting into close range. At any moment the foe might rise behind that sloping bulwark, and pour volley after volley into our unprotected ranks. Again the bugles commanded, and our line arose, moving ahead with careful, stealthy steps.
Closer, closer we drew. The faces of the soldiers were white. They carried their rifles in both hands, ready for instant work. As they approached the grim fortification they lifted their feet catlike, and bent their bodies forward. There was a thrill of expectant disaster in the ranks, but they went on and on, triggers lightly pressed, and rifles half raised. We were now within a hundred feet of the enemy. The silence was horrible. For a moment the brown line wavered, and was steadied by the sound of the bugles.
A column of black smoke ascended from "Aguinaldo's palace." Was it the signal for the last supreme act of resistance? Every man drew himself together for the first volley from the earthworks. It was a moment of agony. We were only twenty-five feet away. I could hear my heart thumping against my ribs, and confess that I looked for a stone or clod to hide me.
With a shriek our line suddenly lurched forward and swept up the slanted fortification. The trenches were empty. The enemy had retired in the night, and not a man was in sight. A sighing sound arose from the cheated regiments as they halted in surprise on the brink of the vacant trenches, then a hoarse shout of laughter burst from the soldiers.
At that moment there was a deafening roar in the town, and the black column of smoke rising from "Aguinaldo's palace" changed to a waving tongue of flame. Dense masses of smoke rolled up in every direction. The thunder of cannon and the steady volleying of infantry seemed to be mingled in the terrific clamor. Gradually the sound of battle swelled and the signals of savage conflict spread.
Had Hale's brigade trapped the insurgent army in the capital and forced it to fight?
A company of Kansans dashed along a curving lane that led straight toward the fire-enveloped headquarters of Aguinaldo. Colonel Funston followed, and I joined him. As we ran past the thatched huts and plaster houses, we could see waves of fire and smoke driving over the roof-tops in the town. Malolos was in flames. The din of fighting was demoniac. Volley followed volley with lightning rapidity. The sound of wailing voices pierced the tumult. Yells of terror, cries for help, could be heard. Forked flames lit the smoke everywhere.
As we approached the "palace" we could see the fire eating through the immense roof. There was a low barricade of stones thrown across the street at the entrance to the plaza in front of the burning monastery, where the insurgent congress had defied the United States. A volley was fired from behind the barricade, and as the bullets sang over our heads, Funston ordered the Kansans to reply with two volleys and charge.
The little colonel swung his hat in the air and yelled as he rushed down the street at the head of his men, with clinking spurs and holstered revolver leaping at his belt.
"Give them hell! hell! hell!"
A fierce Kansas scream burst from the soldiers. They were following the hero of the army.
Now a war correspondent in these times must always remember the value of big headlines. To be the first man to enter the conquered capital of the Philippine Republic -- even though the honor was won by a yard -- would give my paper a chance to thrill the multitude with a sense of its sleepless enterprise. I raced with Funston as he bounded straight towards the enemy's barricade. Gradually I gained on him. We could hear the eager Kansans panting behind us as they dashed along the street. We reached the little wall of stones almost together, and I cleared it at a leap, just ahead of the colonel.
There was no trace of the insurgent army to be seen. We had been tricked again. The glare of burning houses shone on all sides of the plaza. The enemy had fired the town before leaving, and the volley from the barricade was the farewell of the torchmen left to complete the work of destruction. Scores of Chinamen, driven from their homes by the conflagration, ran about the plaza shrieking for water. The battle sounds were merely the explosions of thousands of air-tight bamboo beams in the blazing native houses.
Suddenly a mighty column of fire rose from the "palace," the roof fell in with a roar, throwing up a swirl of sparks, and the home of the Philippine government was a pile of smoking ruins.
"W'an't no heroes made in that battle," said my courier when he found me, "'cepting, o' course, th' army has hold of th' telegraph wires; 'n' repetations 's easy made when there's a good stout censor 'n guard."
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