― 25 ―

When the Colt Jammed

“HIP, hip, hooray!” Lieutenant Henry Miller, of the U.S.A. ship, President Lincoln, flung his exceedingly battered sun hat skimming up into the dark recesses of the cathedral roof, where it stuck on a little image up there. “Here's a chance for glory at last. Got orders to see if the waterworks are clear, and by heaven if they aren't——”

“Well, you can't go without your hat, sir,” suggested Ensign Campbell.

“Oh, you be hanged for a cautious Scotchman. Stir yourself now, Campbell. I'll take you and little Cody there. Oh yes, you young beggar, grin, but it's just possible you'll be wishing yourself back in the stuffy old cathedral with the two towers at Tondo before we're through. And I'll have O'Regan and sixty men. It's a beastly nuisance we haven't a carriage for that Colt. But we'll just have to hump it. That's the advantage of a Colt.”

“Sometimes,” opined Campbell, as he gathered himself up off the stone floor and neatly knocked down his superior officer's hat, and the image of the patron saint as well, “sometimes it's anything but an advantage.”

“If you want to run, I admit, but then we ain't going to run. Now then, eighty rounds apiece for the men, and we ought to be there in an hour.”

Outside the cathedral it was a blaze of heat. The hot sun of the Philippines poured down relentlessly. Inside, where the smell of the incense still lingered even after a week's occupation by American sailors, there was darkness and just a semblance of coolness.

  ― 26 ―

Little Cadet William Cody staggered and blinked his eyes as he came out, and then he straightened himself, looked at his leader, and remembered that he was going out possibly to his first fight.

“Heavy firing toward Caloocan,” said Miller lightly. “They're kept pretty busy there, I reckon. We ought to have a good chance for the waterworks, if we've any luck at all. Now, O'Regan,” to the bo'sun's mate, “you shall take the advance guard, Indian file, muzzles out. Walk along by the channels there, ten on each side of the road, and you drop in the channels at the first alarm. Must have been made for us, Campbell,” he said gaily. “Those channels are ready-made rifle pits.”

There was none of the pomp of war about the workmanlike little party. The men were simply in their blue shirts and trousers and their big sun hats, and the three officers wore shirts belonging to the marine detachments.

Ahead was O'Regan with the advance guard, and a little distance behind came the main body with the officers and the Colt automatic gun. Two men carried the gun, and behind came another man with the tripod on which it was mounted folded together on his shoulders. Two more men carried the limber boxes with the ammunition. A very handy way to carry a gun, as Miller remarked to his comrade.

They were well out of the town now, well beyond the reach of the houses, but there was no sign of life in the paddy-fields. Then a man from the advance guard came running back.

“Please, sir, O'Regan says the stone bridge across the watercourse is all blown up.”

“The dickens he does. Did he expect the enemy to leave the bridges for him to attack them dryshod?”

“No, sir, he didn't,” said the bluejacket simply. “He's waded and it's waist deep; but they've dug pitfalls in the road beyond.”

“By Jove, we'll have to take to the paddy-fields then. It doesn't matter though, none of them about. Tell

  ― 27 ―
O'Regan to get back to the road again as soon as he can, Parker.”

“Don't let the advance guard get too far ahead, sir,” urged Campbell, as they reached the watercourse and plunged in one after the other. In front they could see the advance guard squelching through the soft mud of the paddy-fields. Cody was doing all he knew to keep his youthful head above water, Miller and Campbell were looking after the rapidly disappearing advance guard, and thus it happened that no one saw that the bluejackets carrying the limber boxes stumbled, and for one moment they and their precious burden disappeared beneath the sluggish waters. They raised scared and streaming faces, and the men beside them laughed.

“Hold your blooming tongues,” suggested one, “and there's no damage done. The sun's enough to dry a blessed iceberg, and they,” with a thumb pointing at his officers, “'ll never drop to it.”

And so it happened, the little rift within the lute that by and by would bring destruction upon them all. They were all streaming as they came out. Who was to notice if some men were a little wetter than the rest?

There came a whiz and a ping and a bullet flew wide, though each man started as if the bullet had been specially moulded for him. “There, I told you, sir,” said Campbell, “O'Regan is too far ahead.”

“O'Regan understands his job. I wish to heaven you understood yours half as well,” said Miller sharply.

“There, there,” cried Cody eagerly, “there they are. Let's at 'em, sir.”

There they were, a little band of men in long white crape shirts hanging over their trousers and big shabby straw hats, a patch of white against the green of the paddy-field. They scattered and fled before the advancing Americans, and Miller turned into his course again.

“A stray lot,” he said; “why, they never returned our fire.”

“Won't you follow them up, sir? They did fire first.”

  ― 28 ―

“Not I. Our business is with the waterworks. They can't be heavily garrisoned. All that heavy firing out Caloocan way is all in our favour. No one'll heed a little rumpus over here. And if we take those waterworks it's promotion for the lot of us, my boy.”

“Well, we'll deserve it,” said Campbell.

Again there came a dropping fire in their left rear, but only a bullet or two whistled wide, and Henry Miller shrugged his shoulders and laughed as the ensign looked back.

“Out of range,” said he, “out of range; the trouble will be in front. Come on, men, we mustn't let O'Regan get too far ahead,” and, indeed, the bluejackets were mere dark spots on the green paddy-field.

But they could not move so fast with the gun, and already the fire was coming closer in the rear, and to the left the white-shirted men were showing in numbers.

“Zit, zit, zit” came the bullets, and the man on the left of the gun dropped on his face with his head pillowed on his arm in the mud among the green rice.

“Hallo!” said Miller, “this'll never do. We must give them a lesson. Bugler!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Sound ‘Lie down.’ ”

Down dropped the men as the notes of the bugle rang out.

“Mr Cody, let your rear half company fire volleys by sections. Bring the Colt here.”

For just about thirty seconds the Colt belched forth one continuous stream of lead and flame that no living thing could stand against, and directly in its path lay a few scattered white-shirted figures. The others disappeared. Then they came to the webbing that had been wet and already dried again in the fierce heat and the Colt jammed.

“Hallo, Birt!” called Miller sharply to the gunner, as the fatal deadly silence told him something had gone wrong.

  ― 29 ―

“Jammed, sir,” said the gunner, lifting his face streaked with sweat and dirt. “I can't do nothing. She won't gee.”

“By Jove!” muttered Campbell.

“It'll be all right in a minute, and if it isn't we'll get back to the road and fight our way through,” said Miller quietly. “Lie down, you Cody there, what business is it of yours? Are you afraid of getting your best shirt messed?”

Cody laughed. He was one mass of mud from head to foot, the bullets were beginning to zit, zit, zit overhead again, the Colt was still silent, here was his superior officer joking him about the state of his shirt, and behold he was not afraid.

“Lie down, men, lie down.” Miller tried his hand at forcing the webbing through the red-hot gun, the white figures in the distance grew more and more numerous, and quicker and quicker came the shriek of the bullets overhead. Right and left and to the rear came the Filipinos; it seemed as if the paddy-fields were alive with them. There were some even in front of them cutting them off from O'Regan and the advance guard.

“Now, men, steady, pick your men and fire,” cried Miller, as a bullet found the range again and ploughed a cruel red streak up the gunner's burnt hand.

A volley rang out, and for one moment the advancing enemy dropped back, and, racing back at the double came O'Regan and fifteen of his men.

“The others is on the way, sir,” he announced ruefully; “sure it's mesilf wouldn't have left 'em, but they was down on their faces in the mud, and they wouldn't be persuaded to move at all at all.”

“Lie down, lie down. We'll have to fall back on the road if we can't get this gun to go.”

The Filipinos were all round them now, concealed more or less among the green rice. They had got their range, too, and their bullets were telling among the compact little group of Americans. One or two of the bluejackets were moaning pitifully, having gotten

  ― 30 ―
hurts that were beyond the power of men to bear in silence, the mud was beginning to be streaked with blood, and the gun's crew, with hands all scorched with the red-hot gun, were cursing freely.

“Oh!” groaned the gunner, as he looked at his hands hopelessly, “why ain't it got a water-jacket like the Britishers' Maxims!”

“It's no go,” said the ensign, “we're doing no good here, sir; we're in the open, and every man jack will be dead meat if we stay!”

Miller turned on him sharply.

“We're bound for the——” Then with a long-drawn sigh he threw up his hands and sank into the mud.

For a moment he felt only as if some force had knocked him over, and then it came with a rush, a terrible cruel grinding pain that took his breath away and seemed dragging the life out of him. He could not even moan; it seemed he could hardly draw his breath. There was the tropical sky overhead, the blades of green rice outlined against it now, and the soft yielding mud on which he was lying. He must get to the waterworks. It was his chance in life, the thing that was to give him fame, the girl he loved—— As he thought of her soft brown eyes, he pressed his palms on the mud and made an effort to raise himself, and the pain dragged him back, the man beside him was shrieking aloud, and then he heard Campbell's voice.

“Cody, we've got to retire; they've got us on toast. Bugler, sound the retreat.”

Zit, zit, zit went the bullets; another shriek, and then the notes of the bugle rang out shrill above all the din. He tried to protest, to say he was still leader, that he did not intend to retire, but it seemed he had no command over his own voice; the pain had gripped him, and only a moan came from his lips.

“We can't take the gun, sir,” came the gunner's voice. “It'll only hamper us. It's no good to them without ammunition.”

“No. Watson and you, Birt, carry Lieutenant Miller. Waterfield's dead—leave him. There's Hammond—O'Regan,

  ― 31 ―
tell two of your men to carry him.”

They were going back—back to the road, to the ready-made trenches. But they were leaving the gun, the precious gun, and they had forgotten in their hurry the bolt. The men picked Miller up hurriedly, it was no time to be nice, and, hampered with so many wounded, he knew that they were retiring in good order—that Campbell had them wonderfully well in hand. After all perhaps it was the only thing to be done. They had been trapped. Then he clasped his arm more firmly round Birt's neck and gathered all his strength.

“The bolt,” he gasped, and there came a rush of blood with the words, “the bolt.”

Like a flash it came upon them all. They had forgotten the bolt: take the bolt and the gun would be so much hoop-iron; leave it, and it was a good sound gun only jammed.

Campbell looked back uncertainly. The white shirts were showing through the rice, there was a shout of triumph here and there, the bullets were flying round them, and they were hampered with their wounded now; they could not fight their way back.

“Cody,” he began.

“I'll go, sir,” said Cody, and without another word he turned and raced back, the half-liquid mud splashing beneath his flying feet. He heard a volley ring out behind him and he knew that Campbell was doing his best to clear the way for him; but it gave him a curious sensation of being between two fires. He did not like the firing behind him, he would rather face it, and the blazing sun and the stench of the mud seemed to take all the strength out of him.

He was crawling. Would a bullet find him? Would he be carried out as poor Miller had been? And even as he ran he thought of the short stature and thread paper figure that had been such a grief to him. Other fellows were men at eighteen, and he was not five feet, the stature of a child—less mark for a bullet.

  ― 32 ―

And then he laughed and wondered that he thought of such things now when he was going to his death.

The gun was quite close now, and coming up fast was a white-shirted little man hardly bigger than he was himself, and he drew his revolver and let fly, and wondered dimly as he saw him drop in the green rice. He could not have hurt him surely; he hoped not; he was only disappearing again as they all did if you tried to come to close quarters, and he reached the gun. It was cold now and there was a lull in the enemy's firing. Did they fear that he, single-handed, might get that gun into working order again?

The next moment he had drawn the bolt and dropped it inside his jersey, and he turned and was fleeing for his life towards the little body of bluejackets who were crouching in the rice waiting for him.

It was like a nightmare that coming back; the mud clogged his feet, the sweat poured down his face. Every moment he expected to feel a bullet in his back, and he clutched the bolt inside his jersey with a desperate feeling that he must at least get it safe back. A bullet came tearing through his big sun hat, another made him wince as it sung past his ear; the mud grew stiffer and stiffer, and just as he felt he could carry on not a moment longer, he was among his own people again.

Miller, his face and shirt all stained with blood, was looking at him with desperately anxious eyes, Campbell cried: “Well done, youngster,” and Birt, the gunner—oblivious for once of all discipline—brought his heavy hand down on his shoulder.

“Jumping Jehosaphat! But the little cock's a rare game one.”

He drew one long breath of relief and then the march began again, at the double too, the bullets sang round them, the blazing sky was overhead, but they struggled on and five terrible minutes saw them safely through the watercourse and ensconced in the trenches at the side of the road, and Cody with all his strength gone out of him was lying flat on his back staring up

  ― 33 ―
at the sky wildly gasping for breath. The bolt was safe, the gun was useless, but he could not have gone another yard to save life or honour.

The Filipinos did not advance; possibly they too knew that those channels would make deadly rifle pits.

The Americans waited a little and rested; then the forlorn little party crawled back with their wounded to report themselves at the old cathedral with the two towers at Tondo.

“Ten men missing, sir,” reported Ensign Campbell miserably. “We brought back nine with us. They were too strong for us. It meant annihilation to stay. Lieutenant Miller's badly hit, sir, only spoke once to remind us we'd left the bolt behind us.”

“And the bolt?” questioned Captain Pollard sternly.

“Mr Cody went back, sir, a quarter of a mile in the teeth of the enemy's fire and got it.”

“Well done, Mr Cody. It's such men as you go to the making of a nation,” said his captain quietly, and Cody forgot his small stature, his boyish appearance, and knew he had his foot on the first rung of the ladder that leads to fame. And Miller, tossing and turning in a high fever, could not forget, in his delirium, that he had failed, that circumstances had been too strong for him. Would ever the God of Battles give him a like chance again?