A Brave Man
It sounds somewhat paradoxical to speak of “the fears of a brave man.” You will understand how it is possible for a man to be brave and yet afraid when you have read this story. In it Mr. Kyne gives us a glimpse of a gallant troop commander who was ready to dare death and yet became a coward at the sight of blood; brave to the point of recklessness he weakens when a man is killed. It is the resourceful “Sergeant Jawn” Ryan who comes to his aid in the establishing of the Loyal Order of Chick Fish’s Friends, and it is this same “Jawn” Ryan who tells the tale in his own picturesque language. An absorbing narrative, dramatic and startlingly real.
MY friend, First Sergeant John Ryan, B Troop, —th United States cavalry, quartered in the nipa barracks at Pasay, island of Luzon, had announced that he would do me the honor to walk with me after retreat; hence I came, quite naturally, by this story. So I waited until B Troop had been reported present and accounted for, and John joined me for a walk through the balmy, fragrant tropic twilight.
I guessed that some trouble lay heavy on his mind, so I refrained from asking questions. We struck off down the Calle Real toward the little fishing village of Paranaque, followed it for half a mile, then turned into a bypath that led us out onto the beach of Manila Bay. An upturned banca attracted the sergeant’s attention. He walked to it, sat down a little wearily, and sighed. I filled my pipe and smoked discreetly, the while I watched the sun gods retreating into the darkening west, out beyond Mariveles. And presently John Ryan unburdened himself of his woe.
“There’s glanders in the throop,” he said. “Jack Dempsey’s been condemned an’ ordhered desthroyed. They’ll have shot the poor beast an’ burrned him be the time tattoo goes—an’ I was minded to walk out wit’ a man that wouldn’t talk to me when I’m feelin’ that bad over Jack Dempsey I could go this minute an’ get blind, tearin’, tattherin’ drunk wit’ the thought av it.”
I handed him my tobacco. “Infection from a native caballo?” I queried sympathetically.
“Gawd knows,” mourned the sergeant. “That dirrty little codger, Meyers, was on mounted pass a week ago—an’ ’tis a wise man that can guess where Meyers’ll stable his horse. Three days afther, his mount was off his feed an’ runnin’ at the nose, wit’ me poor Jack Dempsey, worse luck, makin’ friends wit’ him across the picket line. I sneaked Jack Dempsey away into the bamboo a matther av half a mile before reportin’ the case to the farrier. I was in hopes Jack’d get by wit’out catchin’ it if I moved him away from the infection—which I’d a right to do. Did I tell ye, sir, that Jack Dempsey was no governmint horrse? Sorra bit av the U. S. brand on Jack. He was me own horrse—give to me by Lootenant Archibald Chickering Fish—an’ I prized him as a gift horrse in addition to the blood that was in him. His dam was an Irish steeplechaser that Chick Fish’s auld man imported from Galway, an’ his sire was a slashin’ fine chunk av a Nevada range horse, game an’ tough, an’ able to live on nothin’ at all. Bechune the two, Chick Fish’s father got Jack Dempsey—he was called afther the prize fighter because he was sthrong, game, clever, an’ light on his feet—an’ if I live to be ten t’ousand years old, I’ll never get another Jack Dempsey. Sure, Chick Fish cried when he give him to me.”
“Who is Chick Fish?” I scented a story, and John Ryan told it feelingly.
Chick Fish is a memory now, at least in the service. He was cashiered for cowardice wanst—an’ him as fine an’ brave a lad as ever clapped leg to leather. But sure, I couldn’t prove that he wasn’t a coward, for all that I went to his colonel wit’ tears in me eyes, an’ begged like a blitherin’ auld woman.
“Sergeant,” sez he, “a rat’ll fight when it’s cornered, but the arrmy’s no place for an officer that’ll run when his throop’s puttin’ up a winnin’ fight. Ye may go to yer quarthers.”
Sure, poor Chick Fish never had no chanst. He’d been thripped up in mathematics in second year at West P’int, though what in blazes mathematics has to do wit’ a cavalryman is more nor I can tell ye. At any rate, me brave Chick immejiately takes on as a private in I Throop av ours, puts in his two years’ service, gets a corporal’s rags tacked onto him, an’ in nineteen hundred goes up for his commission—an’ gets it from the ranks—gets it, too, be the same token, ahead av his auld class at the P’int. They spheak uv the app’intmint av Chick Fish an’ the likes av him as “The Crime av Nineteen Hundred.”
With sixty t’ousand men in the islands in them days, officers was scarce, so the secret’y av war took the best material at hand, an’ made officers an’ gintlemen out of it. Sure, Chick Fish was a gintleman long before he was an officer, but he’d been a private, too; also he’d been bounced from the P'int, an’ ’twas said that he refused three fights when his man called him out. In consequence av which, when they got the goods on poor Fish, they give him the hook—an’ he give me Jack Dempsey.
When he got his commission, the adjutant general had the bad taste to as sign him to command av B Throop—there wasn’t three throops in the regiment with a full complement av officers—which was rotten bad taste; not the officers, but the assigning av Chick Fish to a regiment where he’d served as an enlisted man. However, I never knew the bhoy till he come walkin’ into me ordherly room, wit’ his new saber rappin’ agin’ his puttees, an’ lookin’ as proud as a peacock in his new shouldher sthraps.
“Sergeant,” sez he very pleasantly, “what is your name?”
“Sergeant Jawn Ryan, sir.”
“Sergeant Jawn Ryan,” sez he, “I’ll have a look at your mornin’ report. I’m your new throop commander, Second Lootenant Archibauld Chickering Fish. When I was an enlisted man in I Troop I was known as Chick Fish. Perhaps ye’ve hearrd av me?”
“I have, sir,” sez I. “Gawd spare ye to the service, Chick Fish,” says I, as fresh as a pansy blossom, an’ takin’ auld soldier’s license, for we two was alone. I liked the bhoy on sight, an’ I knew he was no snob.
He sthuck out his hand wit’out wanst turrnin’ to see if any av the enlisted men was lookin’, an’ he give me a man’s handshake.
“Jawn Ryan,” sez he, “bechune the two av us we should be able to run B Throop nicely. Can ye keep a secret?”
“Thry me, sir,” sez I.
Chick Fish closes the door of me ordherly room, sets down, an’ looks his auld top cutter fair in the eye.
“Sergeant,” sez he, “I need a friend—an’ divil a friend have I at the officers’ mess. I’ve fed too long wit’ the line. We’ll be ordhered into Santa Cruz Province some time to-day, or I miss my guess, an’ there’ll be many a dirrty piece av wurrk around Laguna de Bay. How many times have ye been in action, sergeant?”
“A matther av nineteen gineral engagements, thirty-seven skirmishes, outposts, scoutin’ parties, reconnoissances, and suchlike shootin’ scrapes, both plain an’ fancy, till I’ve lost count.”
“D’ye remimber, sergeant,” sez he, “how ye felt undher fire in yer firrst gineral engagement?”
“I do, sir. I felt like runnin’. An’ if ye can keep a secret yerself, sir, I did run. I run like a divil—an’ I was the only man that did run.”
“Is that so?” sez he, like the big baby that he was. “An’ how come that, Sergeant Ryan?”
“’Twas on the Gondera,” sez I, “an’ I was a doughboy then. We was jumped at breakfast, an’ a matther av fifty bolomen got bechune us an’ most av the guns. There was just thirrty av us—an’ twinty-nine of us was boloed—in consequence av which, sir, I was the only man that run.”
“Did ye see blood?” says Chick Fish, his two eyes poppin’ out.
“Did Robert Emmet die av auld age? Av coorse I seen blood—lashin’s an’ lavin’s av it. The place was a shambles.”
“An’ ye didn’t feel like faintin’?”
“What? An’ me busy fightin’? ’Tis but a poor estimate ye have av the Irish, Lootenant Fish. ’Twas ‘butts to the front,’ parry, thrust, guard, kick, bite, an’ scream till I’d fought me way through the howlin’ heart av the scrimmage, an’ showed them pulahanes the cleanest pair av heels in Samar. Sure, if I’d fainted, I wouldn’t be here tellin’ ye about it. Is that yer secret, sir? Do ye faint at the sight av blood?”
“Ye’ve guessed it, sergeant,” sez he. “A fight never bothers me unless I see a man killed—that is, killed bloody—an’ then it’s Kitty bar the door for me.”
“A nasty habit for an officer, sir,” sez I. “Ye could aizy be misundherstood. How did ye get along as an enlisted man? Ye’ve seen some serrvice wit’ I Throop?”
“I stharted to run twict,” sez he.
“Then why didn’t ye run—if ye stharted to?”
“I had good friends in I Throop,” says Chick Fish, “an’ they kept an eye on me, an’ thripped me up an’ sat on me till I got' over it. Me throuble’s physical, not mental, Sergeant Ryan,” sez he, very pitiful. “To see a man butchered throws me off me balance. I get hysterical, like a girrl, an’ run plain, lunatic crazy when I don’t faint out right. I’m not a coward, sergeant, but Gawd knows I need some friends, now that I’m an officer, an’ I have none at the mess table. So I’ve got to go back where I come from,” sez he, “back to the enlisted men.”
“Chick Fish, my son,” says I—I called him that, seein’ as we were talkin’ man to man—“I’ll be yer friend through thick an’ thin. But even Jawn Ryan, for all that the divil’s on his side, ain’t bullet proof, so I’ll detail six other good men to look afther ye an’ be yer friends in time av need. Wit’ the help av Gawd, Jawn Ryan, an’ six dipindible auld sojers, we’ll thry to pull ye through until this crool war is over an’ ye’ve made friends at the officers’ mess.”
“Thank ye, friend Jawn,” says he, an’ that ended it.
“What’s this, sergeant?” sez he a second later, pokin’ his young nose into the mornin’ report. “Corporal Donohue absent from reveille? What’s the matther wit’ Corporal Donohue that he’s missin’ calls?”
“He was playin’ poker, sir, an’, sittin’ in a winnin’ game, he delayed answerin’ firrst call until he could call two little pair, an’ be the time he could get into line his name had been called.”
“Ye will place this gamblin’ Corporal Donohue in charge av quarthers for three days, as a penance for his sins,” says Lootenant Fish.
“’Twould be well, sir, to overlook this shlip av Donohue’s, sir. He’s a good sojer—an’ ye’ll find him a good friend, I’m thinkin’.”
“Very well; since you suggest it, sergeant,” sez Chick Fish, smilin’ a little, Gawd bless him. “I shtand bechune me love an’ dooty,” an’ wit’ that he was off to answer officers’ call while I went into the squad room to organize the Loyal Ordher av Chick Fish’s Friends.
I picked a high-sthrung little Frinch Canadian be the name av Felix Labory; Con Donohue, a fine, sthrappin’, red headed Far Down; Axel Gunderson, a big Norwegian sergeant; Rat Hosmer, a private, an’ a Bowery guttersnipe wit’ a medal av honor; a windy little cockney be the name av Alf Buttherfield; George Slattery, a Boston mick wit’ a cauliflower ear; an’—mesilf. I knew them all, down to the last kink in their dare-devil backs, an’ I made no mistake in pickin’ them, for when the pinch came they proved their friendship for Chick Fish be dyin’ for him—an’ no man can do more.
Well, sir, to make a long sthory short enough to tell it bechune now an’ the call to quarthers, I’d no sooner got through initiating the Loyal Ordher av Chick Fish’s Friends than young Chick himself comes prancing joyous up the barrack stheps, three at a time.
“Sergeant Ryan,” sez he; “ye will have a bugler sound boots an’ saddles, an’ prepare to take the field at wanst. The quarthermaster sergeant will issue three days’ rations for man an’ beast, together with wan hundhred rounds av ammunition exthra. We move out in half an hour. The sthock’ll be loaded in cascos at Binondo, an’ we’re to tow up the Pasig an’ across Laguna de Bay to tackle the town av Santa Cruz. ’Twill be a flyin’ column av fifteen hundhred men, an’ they’re sendin’ but wan throop av cavalry. We’re to live on the counthry when our three days’ rations are gone.”
An’ wit’ that he runs off to his quarthers to get ready.
Con Donohue sthicks his red head out the barrack window, an’ sez he to me: “Jawn, is that the young feller I’m to be friends wit’?”
“It is,” sez I.
“Glory be,” sez Con. “Sure, the man’s just sphoilin’ to lead B Throop into action. ’Tis little av my friendship he’ll need, I’m thinkin’.”
We led out within the hour eighty-four throopers, wit’ Chick Fish ridin’ at the head av his throop on Jack Dempsey that his auld man’d sint out to him from California in anticipation av Chick’s commission. At Binondo we loaded into a sthring av cascos, an’ the Napidan towed us" upriver to Pateros that same afthernoon. Beyond ye could get promiscuous shootin’, wit’ or wit’out the askin’, so we lay at Pateros till sundown, an’ towed up to Laguna de Bay afther dark.
The followin’ afthernoon we come to a sizable town, called Santa Cruz, an’ undher a smatther av long-range rifle fire we swum our mounts ashore. We’d with us a jackass batt’ry, two battalions av the Ninth Infanthry, wan av the Fourteenth, a battalion av voluntaries, a detachment av signal corps, a platoon av engineers, an’ a detail av poultice wallopers—all undher a brigadier gineral who has since, praise be, gone back to his job in the bank that he left when the war bruk out.
Ye may think ’tis a risky matther goin’ into action undher a man that’s spint his life figurin’ intherest, but be the grace av Gawd an’ the cuteness av the commander in chief, our little man was saddled wit’ a regular arrmy windjammer wit' sinse enough to blow the right call when the brigadier give the wrong ordher—so we got along nicely, an’ the brigadier was as happy as could be, thinkin’ what a great sojer he was—but wasn’t.
’Twas a nice fight we had in front av Santa Cruz, wit’ upward av three t’ousand amigos facin’ us forninst a four-foot sthone wall, wit’ diamond-shaped loopholes that run clear around the city. Wit’ wan regiment av doughboys behind that wall, an’ an hour’s time to dig a good ditch in front av it, an’ t’row the dirrt up agin’ the front av the wall for sthoppin’ shrapnel, I’d ’a’ held Santa Cruz agin’ an arrmy. But divil a ditch had the amigos dug, dependin’ upon numbers an’ firin’ at will to keep us from crossin’ the field foreninst them an’ climbin’ over the wall. Faith, be this an’ be that now, ’twas nasty wurrk, as we found when the doughboys charrged twict an’ come peltin’ back to the shelter av the bamboo jungle, sadder an’ wiser than when they stharted.
B Throop, horrses an’ men, was layin’ flat in a bit av a swale on the right flank, an’ well out av range av the heavy firin’. Me an’ Chick Fish poked our heads up over the crest av the knoll in time to see the infanthry fallin’ back to think it over the second time, an’ says Chick Fish to me, sez he:
“Sergeant, there’s a bit av old-fashioned wurrk here for B Throop. I’ve a notion that this town is sthrong enough in front, but weak in the rear. Eighty-five men in B Throop, countin’ meself, might make a quick sneak around in back, each throoper carryin’ a willin’ infanthryman behind him. We could make the move, an’ get there before the inimy knew what we were up to, an’ rush reënforcements to the rear; an’ with a hundhred an’ seventy men in the gap that B Throop can break in that wall, the divil a thousand amigos can sthand agin’ us. We could carry the infanthry to the edge av the town, an’ then break the way for them wit’ a pistol charrge. Is there a nag in the throop that can’t lep that wall, sergeant?” sez he.
“Sorra wan, sir,” sez I; “an’ if ye’d be afther sindin’ wurrd to the brigadier——”
“Would ye tackle them on the plan I’ve outlined, sergeant?”
“Would a cat ate liver?”
“Ye wild Irishman, ye!” sez he, grinnin’ at me. “Tell Corporal Donohue to crawl up here till I have a wurrd wit’ him.”
I passed the wurrd to Con, an’ when he come up, sez Chick Fish to Con:
“Me compliments to the commandin’ officer, an’ tell him that Lootenant Fish has had ye scoutin’ in the rear av the town, an’ that ye report a weak defense in that quarther. Tell him, corporal, wit’ my compliments—an’ don’t forget the compliments—that if he’ll lind me a company av regulars, B Throop’ll carry double, move ’em in jig time, an’ break a gap in that wall in less than an hour. Ye undherstand, Corporal Donohue, that ye’re to tell the brigadier whatever ye plaze, in ordher to get the company av infanthry, an’ if the good Lord has endowed ye wit’ the imagination av yer race, ye’ll come back with what I’ve sint ye afther.”
“I’ll be back with them directly, sir,” sez Con, an’ was off like a shot. As he went, he turned his red head an’ winked at me, an’ sure ’twas the proud man he was to be friends wit’ Chick Fish.
A half hour later back comes Con, followed be a company av the Fourteenth, in command av a top sergeant, the company commander havin’ been winged be a sthray bullet on his way over. An’ who should be ridin’ wit’ Con but the brigadier and his staff, as pompous as a cockatoo.
“This is a darin’ plan av yours, Lootenant Fish,” sez he, “but this corporal av yours tells me he’s been within a stone’s throw av the wall in back, an’ ’tis held be—how many men did ye say, corporal?”
“Two hundhred an’ nineteen I counted, sir,” says Con, like the grrand liar that he was, the Lord ’a’ merrcy on his sowl.
“Ye’re a young man, Lootenant Fish, an’ I misdoubt me av the wisdom av the move. However, I’m inthrustin’ ye wit’ the men—— Lootenant Fish, what in the divil’s name is the matther wit’ ye?”
I took a quick look at Chick Fish, an’ saw that he was starin’ at somethin’. I looked—an’, tough as I am, I didn’t care for a second look. A big Remington slug had skipped over the hill, an’ slammed into the head av Number One in the second set av fours that Chick Fish had borrowed from the brigadier. Chick’s face was apple green, an’ the two eyes av him poppin’ out; while ye’d be sayin’ Jack Robinson he turrned, an’ somethin’ towld me that there was wurrk for the Loyal Ordher av Chick Fish’s Friends. I out wit’ me foot an’ thripped him up, an’ Con Donohue fell off his horse like a dead man, fair on top av Chick Fish. He was a heavy man, was Con, an’ when he hit Chick Fish he laid him out for fair.
“What ails him, sergeant?” sez the brigadier, not noticin’ the dead man in back av him.
“A touch av the sun, sir,” sez I. “Corporal Donohue, ye great red booby ye, the next time ye go to catch a faintin’ man come off yer horrse the way I taught ye to. Ye’ve like to killed the throop commander.”
“A touch av the sun, eh?” sez the brigadier kindly. “’Tis come at a most unfortunate moment.”
“’Tis nothin’ much, sir. He’ll be himself in a jiffy,” sez I. “’Tis more av Corporal Donohue’s red head in the pit av his stummick than the sun, I’m thinkin’,” an’ I scowled fearful harrd at Con.
The red divil winked at me, an’ while I was pourin’ a canteen av wather into Chick Fish’s face, Felix Labory chucked a shelter half over the face av the dead man, an’ Rat Hosmer threw his horrse in front av the body to hide it from Chick Fish when he should come to—which he did in about two minutes. He sat up, gaspin’, an’ lookin’ around for what’d frightened him. He saw the brigadier and the staff instead, an’, begorra, ye could see the look av terror in the bhoy’s face. He thought he’d been found out. I peaked his campaign hat, clapped a wet handkerchief undher it, an’, undher pretense av liftin’ him up, I whispered:
“Buck up, sir. Ye’re safe. The friends saved ye, an’ I blamed it on the sun.”
“Ye should be more careful in this heat, me bhoy,” says the little brigadier. “How do ye feel now? Able to sit yer horrse?”
“I will, sir—in a minute,” mumbles poor Fish, an’ Rat Hosmer comes up an’ gives him a pull at his canteen, an’ be the same token there was more than ditch wather in that canteen. For all that, ’twas five minutes before Chick Fish got back his natural color, but, what wit’ me facin’ him the other way, an’ the elixir av life in Rat’s canteen, he was able to climb aboord Jack Dempsey an’ take command, an’ the brigadier an’ his staff rode back to the main command.
“Begorra, Jawn, but that was a close shave,” sez Chick Fish, as we jogged away, each av us with a lump av a doughboy behind us an’ grabbin’ us around the middle. “Ye’ll thank me friends for me, if ye plaze.”
“Ye’ll get through the charrge nicely, sir,” says I, “provided ye make the pace an’ don’t sthop to take notes av the scenery.”
We made a detour av three miles, an’ come in at the back av the town. Two hundred yards from the wall we jumped an outpost, an’ a second later the air was full av lead. The top av that wall fair spit fire at us.
“Off wit’ ye!” yells Chick Fish, givin’ his doughboy a dig in the ribs. An’ “Off wit’ ye!” yells the noncoms. An’ “Off wit’ ye!” yells the throopers. An’ off slid the doughboys, glad enough to do their fightin’ on foot, accordin’ to their nature an’ inclination.
“Dhraw pistols,” says Chick Fish, an’ our bugler bhoy sounded off. “Left wheel! Forward! Trot! Gallop!” as we come into the open. “Charrge!” an’ away we went, head an’ tail up, sthraight for the wall, wit’ the infanthry, yellin’ blue murder, trailin’ afther us like a pack av foxhounds. The blood av his Irish mother swelled up in Jack Dempsey, an’ he took out, six lengths in front av the line. Wanst I saw Chick Fish look back over his shouldher an’ grin wit’ the pure love av the fightin’, and then “Smack!” comes a big forty-five-seventy Remington into me horse’s shouldher, an’ down he goes, pinnin’ me undher him be wan foot.
“Pull me outer this,” sez I, as soon as the infanthry caught up to me. I was ready to cry wit’ the thought av missin’ the sight av Jack Dempsey takin’ that wall wit’ Chick Fish.
“Out ye come, ye little Irish wild cat,” says a big doughboy, grabbin’ his horrse be the tail an’ twistin’ him around like he would a sheep. “Ye’ll fight respectably now, ye gossoon, on yer two feet, as Gawd intended ye should, not on a ramping, bone-rackin’ brute av a horrse.”
“Come wit’ the infanthry, sergeant,” sputthers another, with a Mauser hole through both cheeks, an’ him grinnin’ like Punch, spittin’ blood an’ teeth. “’Tis the backbone av the service,” an’ he snakes me carbine out of the gun boot an’ hands it over to me—we used the Krag carbine in the cavalry in them days. “Haste to the weddin’, me bucko,” says he, an' skips along wit’ his bunkie.
B Throop was at the wall just as I got to me feet, an’ the firrst thing I saw was poor Jack Dempsey, wit’ Chick Fish still on his back, provin’ faithful to his Irish blood. He went at that wall like a buck, an’ cleared it wit’ two foot to spare, as I’m a livin’ man. Och, but ’tis the grrand big jumpin’ jack av a horrse he was—an’ he dead av the glanders now, an’ I’ll never own another Jack Dempsey.
Into the heart av that mess av Filipinos he lepped, an’ B Throop come rampin’ afther him, with the pistols poppin’ left an’ right. Never a bit of a rein did Chick Fish dhraw. Sthraight through they went on toward the town, reloadin’ as they rode, then left wheel an’ back ag’in over another section av the wall, lavin’ the makin’ av a fair little scrimmage behind them, as I discovered when I come limpin’ up to the wall with the infanthry, puffin’ tike a runaway carabao.
The infanthry went into the gap with the bayonet, lavin’ me to poke around wit’ the butt av me little carbine, hoppin’ here an’ hoppin’ there on me sound hoof, an’ havin’ a terrible time entirely dodgin’ wounded amigos that kept cuttin’ at me with bolos an’ bayonets. Sure, ’tis the lonesome, frightened man I was until I spotted a B Throop man currled up at the wall, howlin’ hell an’ damnation with a broken collar bone, an’ a little Filipino bitin’ him in the calf av the leg, for all the worrld like a fice dog.
“Lave be, ye little skut!” sez I, slappin’ the amigo in the snoot, an’ makin’ him let go the throoper’s leg.
“Kill him, sarge,” says the throoper. “He bit me.”
“I will not,” sez I. “Learrn to sit yer horrse takin’ a wall, an’ ye won’t get bit.”
Just then his throop horse sthuck his nose over the wall, nickerin’ for his rider, so I helped the lad across an’ into his saddle, an’ mounted double behind him; an’, be the Rock av Cashel, if that ungrateful little amigo didn’t give me a nip on the heel as I clumb up. I was that mad I clumb down ag’in an’ lathered him well wit’ his own gun sling, the little tarantu-la!
“We’ll go hunt for B Throop now,” sez I when I’d finished, “an’ be the racket they’re makin’ down in that cane field, ’twill not be hard to find them,” an’ we jogged off about our business.
I found Chick Fish an’ B Throop in the cane field, playin’ a game av hide an’ go seek with the inimy, an’ when the last av them had been run out into the open. Chick Fish come up to me smilin’.
“We’ll wait for the infanthry here, sergeant,” sez he. “When they come up, we’ll dismount an’ fight on foot.”
Which we did. The amigos in front av our main command was sthill in ignorance o’ what we’d done to their rear, an’ when we come prancin’ in at their backs, faith, there was wailin’ an’ gnashin’ av teeth. We policed a half mile av that wall, trustin’ to luck that the brigadier had had the good sinse to move the main command out of line with our fire—which, thanks to the bugler ordherly, no doubt, he had—an’ when we bruk the center they sthreamed through, an’ it was all off but the cheerin’; an’ there was heaps av that for Chick Fish an’ the seventy-two men that was left in B Throop.
The Loyal Ordher av Chick Fish’s Friends was intact, barrin’ a few scratches here an’ there, an’ when it was all over, says Con Donohue to me, sez he:
“Divil a wan av me knows whether Chick Fish is man, woman, or divil, but I’ll say this much: For a man that needs the protection av his friends—an’ Chick Fish needs it—I never rode behind a braver little man.”
“’E’s a bloomin’ little ginger pot, that’s wot ’e is,” says Alf Buttherfield, the cockney.
“By tam, yes,” says Felix Labory, the Frinch Canuk, an’ so on through all the friends.
“Never take yer eyes off him in action, lads, for all that,” says I, an’ I went over to look at Jack Dempsey. The poor divil had been creased across the neck, an’ his poor head was hangin’ bechune his two knees. But, praise be, ’twas only a scratch, an’ I knew his head would be up ag’in in a week, as proud as ever.
Ah, ’twas a pretty piece av wurrk, a pretty piece, that scrimmage at the wall, but the currse av it was, divil an officer was there to see it. Not a sowl but the enlisted men in B Throop an’ that company av doughboys. But for all that, Chick Fish was compensated. He went over that wall on Jack Dempsey, an’ seven friends followed him. When he rode back he was followed be seventy-two—an’ every man jack av them ready an’ willin’ to die for Chick Fish.
For a week, ’twas the usual wurrk av rushing a barrio at daybreak, a ten-minute spatther av fire, an’ breakfast in the main calle on whatever grub the counthry afforded. I’d got me another horrse, an’ me an' the Loyal Ordher av Chick Fish’s Friends took it upon ourselves to forage for Chick Fish an’ Jack Dempsey. We roved the universe round for the best—an’ got it. ’Twas nice light wurrk, fair coolin’ to the blood, an’ where there was bloody dead we threw somethin’ over them or kept Chick Fish away from them.
But, careful as we were, the finish come at Muntinlupa, not because of the friends, but in spite av them. ’Twas the brigadier’s fault, sending us in to do a nasty job that could as well have been done be a light batt’ry at two miles’ range. However, be that as it may, we tackled Muntinlupa of a bright May mornin’, while the infanthry an’ the jackass batt’ry, whose wurrk it was, went down be the river an’ had an ilegant swim. "
“Sir,” says I to Chick Fish, just before we stharted, “they’re holdin’ this town av Muntinlupa too cheap entirely.”
“I know it, sergeant,” snaps Chick Fish, “an’ you know the reason.”
“If ye’ll pardon me impidince, sir,” says I, “if I was you I’d borrow another company av infanthry.”
“I asked him,” says Chick Fish, an’ his lips was thremblin’, “an’ he asked me if B Throop was gettin’ cowld feet.”
“Enough, sir,” sez I. “We’ll take this town av Muntinlupa, or may the divil fly away wit’ B Throop.”
“Gawd ’elp that puffy little toad av a brigadier if I hever gets ’im at the wrong hend av a Krag,” says Alf Buttherfield. “’E cawn’t hinsult Chick Fish an’ get away with hit.”
The men was muttherin’ an’ murmurin’, for some av the friends had hearrd Chick Fish talkin’ to me, an’ the wurrd was passed along the line that the brigadier had put a slur on B Throop.
“I could kill ’im,” says Windy Alf, loud enough for Chick Fish to hear him.
“Divil a chance, Alf,” says George Slattery, “for ye’ll never get him nearer the firin’ line than he is now, an’ ’tis murder if ye shoot him on parade.”
At that a laugh went up from B Throop. Chick Fish hearrd every wurrd, an’ bit his lip, but divil a wurrd did he say. Sure, they was all the friends he had in the wurrld, an’ he sthood bechune his love an’ dooty.
We jumped the little brown men av Muntinlupa a mile outside the town—jumped the divils when we weren’t expectin’ it—an’ they caught us in column. Ye must know that we’d left the horrses behind, an’ was fightin’ on foot.
No need for Chick Fish to give ordhers to auld campaigners like B Throop. We jumped into a skirmish line, an’ went for them on the bit. They was so close, ’twas the on’y thing to do, an’ Chick Fish showed his common sinse when he ordhered a charge on their trench.
I looked back as we rushed in, an’ saw eight av B Throop lyin’ quiet enough in the road behind us, with big Axel Gunderson, the Norwegian, staggerin’ along a dozen, paces in the rear, an’ blood spoutin’ from his mouth. He was dyin’ on his feet, an’ cryin’:
“Pocketed, sarge, pocketed. Look out for liddle Chick Fish. Dis is bad business.”
“Who’s that?” says Chick Fish, an’ turrned. I sthraightened him out with a cuff on the side av his inquisitive head—aye, I sthruck the throop commander, for was I not wan av his friends?—an’ “’Tind to yer business, Chick Fish,” sez I, “an’ lave yer friends to ’tind to theirs.”
The wurrds weren’t out of me mouth before we had a bunch av bolomen on top av us. They rose out av the cogon grass like mosquitoes, with their bolos an’ creeses lickin’ out at us. I saw a big, two-handed barong come down on top av little Tommy Kernan, who’d carried a guidon in B Throop through three enlistments. Wan second Tommy was standin’ there in front av me an’ Chick Fish, cut clean through from the top av his head to his collar bone; the next he’d pitched forward, as dead as a mackerel, into Chick Fish’s arms.
Gawd! I can hear it yet, the scream Chick Fish let out av him when Tommy Kernan passed on to his honorable discharge front the service. I’d just time to parry a cut from the same big barong an’ peck a nate little hole in a tribes man’s skull with the barrel av me Krag, when I observed that Chick Fish was runnin’, leavin’ me in command av B Throop.
“Sthop him, for the love av Heaven!” I yelled to Gunderson.
“Sure, sarge, I sthop him,” says Gunderson, as thick as a harelipped man, an’ pitched forward, grabbin’ Chick Fish around the knees as he fell. He died there, did Gunderson, like the good friend av Chick Fish’s that he was.
Screamin’ like a lunatic, Chick Fish threw him off, but, like a hound on a hare, Con Donohue lepped out av the thick av the fightin’, an’ grabbed him be the nape av the neck. An’ then a big, wavy-bladed creese come whizzin’ over.
Con bent over Chick Fish an’ took the creese in his back, but he saved Chick Fish before he went to join Gunderson.
“Sthand by him, B Throop!” screams little Rat Hosmer, pluckin’ the creese out av Con an’ layin’ about him, left an’ right.
At the call, Felix Labory, Alf Buttherfield, an’ George Slattery closed in around Chick Fish, pistols in hand, an’ there, facin’ twenty brown savages, with Chick Fish safe in their midst, they died to a man.
Me? I was in command av B Throop, an’ there was too many brave men in B Throop for me to forget it, even for the sake av Chick Fish, that I loved like a son. All I can remember is a lot av hot, sweaty, ill-smellin’ divils pressin’ around me, cuttin’ an’ slashin’, an’ then, little be little, B Throop closed in on them. When it was over, we needed recruitin’ badly, an’ Chick Fish was gone, for all that I prayed Gawd we’d find him dead with the Loyal Ordher av Friends that was ringed around him when I’d seen him last.
No, we did not retreat. That thievin’, incompetent, volunteer brigadier had put his slight on men that had soldiered where he couldn’t have been a dog robber, an’ for the sake av Chick Fish, dead or alive, honored or disgraced, I made up me mind to take Muntinlupa. So we took it, for there was no sthoppin’ us, an’ I was settin’ in the parlor av the alcalde’s casa in Muntinlupa, dividin’ among Chick Fish’s friends a big sack av Chile dollars that we’d found in the town treasury, when the brigadier, ridin’ at the head av the entire command, come into Muntinlupa. I looked out the window, an’ there, sittin’ on Jack Dempsey, with his side arrms gone an’ a guard on each side av him, rode poor Chick Fish, who couldn’t sthand the sight av blood. He’d deserted his command when it was fightin’ a winnin’ fight, an’ they’d found him two miles away, leanin’ up ag’in Jack Dempsey, an’ cryin’.
An’ that’s the sthory av a brave man who went crazy. What could we do? They tried him be gineral court-martial for cowardice in the face av the inimy—an’ that’s punishable be death or such other punishment as a court-martial may inflict. So they bobtailed Chick Fish—turned him out av the service, without honor—an’ when B Throop had finished the campaign in Santa Cruz, they sent us down to the Walled City to rest up and wait for the next detachment av rooks to come down from the States.
Afther Chick Fish left us in Santa Cruz, what wit’ the scarcity av cavalry officers, an’ me bein’ top cutter an’ an auld sojer, I had command av the throop until the day we come back down the river in the same auld cascos an’ disembarked at Binondo. I was ridin’ Jack Dempsey. Chick Fish give him to me for me own horrse the day they took him down undher arrest to old Fort Santiago. He cried, poor bhoy, an’ said he’d never ride Jack Dempsey ag’in, an’ I give him me wurrd that I’d cherish the horrse for the sake av the master, an’ he bade me good-by an’ good luck.
We’d just led the sthock off the cascos onto the stone quay, when the big quartermaster’s tug that carries the home-goin’ throops out to the transports in the fairway pulled in to the' dock ahead av us. There was a party av arrmy people goin’ home to San Francisco—a gineral officer an’ his ladies, together with two aids an’ a passel o’ young shavetails carryin’ rugs an’ can dies for the young ladies. The gineral—he was a major gineral, an’ he knew his business—sees the fragment av B Throop on the dock, an’ sez he to his party, sez he:
“There’s what’s left o’ the throop that was cut up at Muntinlupa.”
He took off his hat to B Throop, like the true officer an’ gintleman that he was, for he knew that we’d suffered crool hard, an’ did the wurrk that was give us to do. Not so his aids an’ the shavetails. They was the newer breed av sojer, filled with blue blood an’ conceit. They looks me little band av ragamuffins over lazylike, an’ says one av the young shavetails:
“Gineral, if I mistake not, that’s my new command. I was told to take them over when they should come down river to-day, an’ if you’ll excuse me, sir, I’ll go back to duty with the line,” an’ wit’ that he shakes hands with the gineral, bows to the ladies, an’ comes over to where I’m sittin’ Jack Dempsey. I dismounted an’ saluted him.
“I have to report B Throop present, sir, an’ accounted for.”
He give me a cool nod. “Very well, me man,” sez he. He took a long look at Jack Dempsey then at the led horses we had with the throop, an’ faith he was a judge av horseflesh, for, without a by your l’ave, or if ye plaze, he climbs aboord Jack Dempsey.
The airs av him angered me. Chick Fish had never sphoke to me as “me man;” an’ nayther does any other officer that’s a gintleman when he speaks to a top sergeant wit’ fifteen years av honorable service behind him, an’ the Auld Soldier’s Home in front.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, sir,” sez I, “but ye’ll have to avail yerself of wan av the led horses, sir. That horrse ye’re on belongs to me. He was give to me be Lootenant Fish, who believed in follerin’ the regulations an’ furnishin’ his own mounts.”
He blushed at that, an’ climbed down, rippin’ mad to be put upon be an enlisted man in the hearin’ av the commander in chief an’ his ladies, without bein’ able to think av a come-back. I looked at the gineral out av the tail av me eye, an’ he winked at me, so he did. I was about to wink back at him, when what should I see but Chick Fish, in civilian clothes an’ a new bag in his hand, walkin’ down the dock, head up an’ pale as milk. The men saw him, too, an’ there was a murmur went up among them.
I wheeled Jack Dempsey on his hind legs, an’ looked at B Throop, an’ sure there was pity for poor Chick Fish in the eyes of every man. It fair bruk me auld heart to see the poor bhoy, leavin’ the service, goin’ home crushed an’ disgraced, with we av B Throop, that knew him an’ loved him, lookin’ on. It’s aisy enough to die, sir, but livin’ down disgrace is crool hard, an’ it come into me head at that minute to let Chick Fish know that, even if the Loyal Ordher av Friends was gone, B Throop knew—an’ undherstood.
“’Tenshun!” sez I, an’ our bugler sounded the call. “Lead out! Prepare to mount! Mount!” An’ there we was lined up along the dock as Chick Fish come stheppin’ by. I rode out, front an’ center, an’ he sthopped at sight av Jack Dempsey an’ me, an’ looked up at me like the poor lost soul that he was.
“Dhraw sabers!” I looked Chick Fish fair in the eyes, an’ they were wet. “Present sabers!” an’ forty-one o’ the finest throopers Gawd A’mighty ever created come up in salute to the officer an’ the gintleman that was.
Chick Fish stood there a minute, lookin’ at us. A minute passed, an’ still he stood there, stupid an’ uncomprehendin’, with B Throop’s sabers sthill raised in salute. I was waitin’ for Chick Fish to return our salute before returnin’ sabers, but he didn’t undherstand; so we stood there at salute, starin’ straight ahead av us; an’ another minute passed. From somewhere back in the throop I hearrd a man give a sob, an’ it was that silent on the dock the sound av that sob rung out like a shot.
Then our new throop commander—he was a slow-thinkin’ divil an’ I never liked him an’ never will—got next to the true sthate av affairs. If he was wild wit’ me for ordherin’ him off Jack Dempsey, he was wilder now at B Throop’s salute to a condimned coward.
“B Troop! Return—sabers!”
B Throop heard, but it did not heed. Who was this young blood that dared to give them ordhers in the presence av Chick Fish? The sabers stayed at salute, mine wit’ the rest av them. Not a man so much as moved an eyelash.
’Twas only then that Chick Fish undherstood, an’ his face lit up. He dhropped his bag, clicked his heels together, an’ brings his hand up to the rim av his sthraw hat.
He was sthandin’ close to Jack Dempsey’s head, an’ I could speak to him without bein’ hearrd be me new throop commander.
“Give the ordher, sir,” sez I between me teeth; “for Gawd’s sake, give the ordher, sir! They’ll not obey this new man.”
Chick Fish’s voice was hearrd in B Throop for the last time:
“B Throop! Return-n-n-n—sabers!”
Forty-two sabers went home to their scabbards with a crash, an’ me new throop commander comes sthrollin’ up to Chick Fish an’ me. He was red wit’ rage, an’ he snaps out:
“Sergeant, how dare you presume to give ordhers to this throop over my head! Ye will hand me your resignation as first sergeant av B Throop at retreat this evening. I’ll teach ye to give salutes to them that earrns them.”
“Faith, ye can go to blazes, if ye like, sir,” says I, very uppish, in wan second forgettin’ me fifteen years av honest an’ faithful service. “Neither ye nor the likes av ye, ye unlicked, unwashed, untried cub, ye coffee-coolin’, malingerin’, lady tender, ye pen-pushin’ dandy, ye feather-bed sojer, can prevint Jawn Ryan or B Throop from salutin’ the brave.” I stood in me stirrups an’ shook me fist in his face. “I’ve cast me future where me past is—behind me, with that speech, sir,” sez I, “but I can rot in Bilibid for Chick Fish’s sake more cheerful than I can serrve as top cutther under you,” an’ wit’ that I tore off me chevrons an’ threw them at his feet. Then I reached down an’ shook hands with Chick Fish, backed Jack Dempsey down the dock, with me auld back as stiff as a ramrod, an’ took me place on the left flank, a private av the line.
“Bravo!” calls wan av the ladies in the gineral’s party. “Spoken like a B Throop man, sergeant,” an’ she waves her parasol at me.
’Twas a day av surprises, but the most surprisin’ thing was what that regular arrmy gineral wint an’ did. He walked up to me chevrons lyin’ on the dock, picked them up, sthepped up alongside Jack Dempsey, an’ says he to me, sez he:
“Tack thim on ag’in, sergeant. Ye know how to wear them wit’ honor. Should ye resign formally, I’ll see to it that your colonel does not accept your resignation.”
“I shall resign, sir,” sez I, shakin’ an’ tremblin’. “’Twould be useless to serve under him—now.”
“B Throop needs you worse nor it needs him,” sez the gineral, very low. “I thank ye for showin’ him his place—an’ in the years to come he’ll thank ye, too. He needs dhrillin’, an’ I ought to know. He’s me own son. Mr. Fish, sir.”
Chick Fish saluted him, an’ walked over.
“Sir,” sez the auld man, “I’m av the opinion that when an officer’s men impugn his courage, ’tis high time he was kicked out o’ the service body an’ bones. But there seems to be a difference av opinion concernin’ your conduct, Mr. Fish, an’, since I was a private wanst meself, I think we may safely bank on the opinions av the men ye led over that wall at Santa Cruz, even if ye did flunk it at Muntinlupa. I think, Mr. Fish, that I have influence enough in Washington to have your case reopened. Ye may l’ave your address with me aid. I wish ye good luck an’ godspeed, sir, an’, if ye don’t mind, I’d like to shake the hand av a man that’s loved like B Throop loves you.”
An’ so we lost Chick Fish an’ I gained Jack Dempsey. The gineral was as good as his wurrd to Chick Fish. When we returrned to the States we took station at Fort Meyer, Virginia, an’ one fine day I was called into the adjutant’s office, an’ towld to report to the President av the United States, at the White House. I took the throlley, an’ wint up to Washington, an’ sint in me name to the president.
He was siftin’ in a room be himself when I come in.
“How do ye do, Sergeant Ryan,” sez he, an’ shook hands wit’ me. He picked somethin’ off his desk. “Here is a little somethin’ for ye, sergeant,” sez he. “Congress voted it to ye at the last session for conspicuous gallanthry in action at a place called Muntinlupa,” an’ he pins on me blue blouse a medal av honor. “Be the way, sergeant,” sez he, “what kind av a man was that young officer, Fish, an’ what was behind that affair at Muntinlupa?”
I towld him about Chick Fish.
“Very well,” sez he, “’tis the brave that know the brave.”
A week later Chick Fish was given back his commission, an’ sint back to furrin service. He serrved a year, wit’ honor, an’ then resigned. He’s a lawyer now, in New York, where he can fight to his heart’s contint without seein’ blood, an’ Jack Dempsey’s dead av the glanders, an’ me auld heart’s sore this night. Thank ye for walkin’ out wit’ me. Ochone, ochone. A man’s friends comes and they goes in the service—they comes an’ they goes.