The Seamy Side of the Philippines
THE SEAMY SIDE IN THE PHILIPPINES.
BY HENRY C. ROWLAND,
Late Acting-Assistant-Surgeon, U. S. A
THE reveille was sounded by a cavalry bugler across the lightening parade-ground. Before the full, clear notes had struck the mountain-side and wavered back in mellow overtones, the call was caught by a sleepy infantry bugler and thrown quivering out again. Then the artillery musicians took up the hated strains in different keys, and the silvery discord reached the outposts, who sent it back in distant, tremulous tones.
The red sun looked over the shoulder of an eastern hill, brought its slanting beams to bear upon the misty valley, and the steaming, tropical day had broken.
In the convent across the parade-ground, the doctor woke from humid unconsciousness, stared sleepily at a lizard overhead, and turned on his cane-bottomed bed to avoid the glare of sunlight that came pouring through the myriad shell window-panes. An artillery-mule brayed noisily for his breakfast, and a chorus of neighs came from the troop-horses.
The major's orderly clattered along the teak flooring of the corridor and knocked sharply at the doctor's door.
"The major's compliments, and there will be an advance of two companies at eight o'clock. Will the doctor have a detail ready to go with them?"
The messenger saluted and clattered off, waking the sick in the adjacent wards. The doctor groaned, and climbed stiffly out from under his mosquito-netting. The osier of water he poured over his head somewhat revived him. Before creeping into his clammy clothes he bandaged his legs from the ankle up, for the fertilizer in fields about a native town is not good for open sores. As he finished dressing, "sick-call" sounded from the gates. Half the garrison responded, and, gaunt and hollow-eyed, came trooping in. The other half were not on sick-report, but should have been. The doctor walked through the waking wards, and the patients watched him apathetically from their hard little cots. Most of them were the color of their khakis. Those that were not had no color at all.
"B Company—Adams. What's the matter, Adams?"
"How often do you have your chill?"
"Every day, sir. It 's coming on now." The man's lips were blue and retracted over his teeth.
"All right. Three of these every four hours. Can't put you on sick-report, Adams. Got no one for guard-duty now."
"Very good, sir." The man shambled off to relieve the prison guard: that meant four hours in the sun, with two hundred rounds swinging from his stomachless waist.
"Billings. Dysentery, eh? Yes, I remember; had it four months now? Think you can manage to get about? I've got no more cots in the hospital. Sergeant, mark Billings sick in quarters, and take this can of soup and see that he gets nothing else. When you run out, report to the hospital steward.
"Brooks. Dhobie itch—nonsense, man; we've all got that. Can't walk? You'll have to, Brooks; your company's going on a hike this morning. Come, none of that; get along with you. Steward, give him some chrysarobin ointment, two per cent.
"D Compan-e-e-e—Atkins. Yes, I see; got an abscess on your leg—bamboo thorn—yes. Steward, got a clean knife? Can't put you on sick-report, Atkins; your company's going
out. Keep that thing as clean as you can. Steward, send that man that's just fainted up to the ward. If you have n't got any more cots, let him spread his blanket on the floor."
Forty men were treated in an hour and a half. Not one but would have been a bed-patient in a city hospital, and the doctor knew it; but Filipinos can't be expected to commit suicide, so thirty went to duty, and ten were marked sick in quarters. Then the doctor got his breakfast, had his chill, and made things ready for the advance.
Promptly at eight o'clock the assembly sounded, and the men fell in with a pitiful attempt at snap and spirit. Forming for a "hike" was different from lounging through guard-mount, and a different interpretation was apt to be put upon a truly involuntary lassitude. They were watched indolently but critically from the shade of the nipa huts where the other companies were quartered. Filipinos squatting on their heels in the shade of the huts looked on with gloomy indifference, while the naked brown babies, who had many friends in the forming ranks, ran beside and pattered joyously to the men who were ordered out to kill their fathers. The colonel, a lean old hound who had an absolute immunity from fear, fever, and fatigue, surveyed them sadly.
"Sloppy-looking crowd, chuck-full of fever—and sand. Hardly hold their rifles. When we came out here I had a thousand sharpshooters and a thousand crap-shooters. Look at 'em now. That's what comes of camping in a fever-hole like this. H'm, very well, captain; get the company in motion."
"Shoulder—h' arms! Right forward—fours right—march!"
The column swung down the dusty road; a feeble cheer came from the nipa huts; some of the men grinned, but most of them were too intent on keeping pace with the others.
Four miles down the road they struck across the rice-paddies and forded a shallow stream from the banks of which came a few ineffectual shots that ceased at their approach; then they were ordered to deploy from the bamboos on the other side. Far across the fields to the right they saw some scattering puffs of bluish white. The bamboos behind them snapped and crackled noisily. By the roadside, five hundred yards in advance, they saw the other company waiting for them to get abreast. More than one of them, who cared little for the bullets, looked with dread upon the sun-scorched stretch of meadow they must cross, and wondered if they had strength to reach the other side. The fight ahead was not an exhilarating danger. It was hot, heartbreaking work, with perhaps a painful wound in payment. Some of them looked wistfully at the cool shade of the bamboos, and wondered what they would not be willing to give to be able to throw off their heavy accoutrements and stretch out at full length for as long as they wished. Three men had dropped out, one from heat and two from general exhaustion. Another fell, but his reputation could not stand it; and at the jeers of the men about him and a cutting remark from his captain, he scrambled to his feet and tagged along behind.
They neared the outer trench, and occasionally could see dark objects along its edge. Behind, a splendid creature in white and glitter was walking back and forth. They lost sight of him after the first volley, but later found his finery in an abandoned hut.
"Compan-e-e-e halt! Ta-ta!" sang the bugle. The men dropped in their tracks. A scattering fire came from the extreme right. In front of the doctor a tall stalk of meadow-grass swayed slightly and fell. There was not a breath of air.
Thug! Ugh! A man at the other end of the line doubled sidewise like an alligator. A call came for the doctor. He got up and started down the line. He went quickly, and not altogether from professional zeal or motives of humanity. For ten minutes they waited, while the sun blazed down upon them, struck the steaming ground, and radiated back, stinging their nostrils as they breathed. Little shivers ran up and down their backs—not the kind that come in a military drama when the orchestra plays the national hymn, but the kind one has when one gets into a very hot bath. Several of the men fell asleep. These were the country boys from Hoosier towns who were used to getting up at five to milk, eating on the stroke of the clock, and going to bed at eight sharp. Up to this time their greatest irregularity had been the annual circus or a semiannual country ball. The townies, hollow-eyed but cheerful, made profane remarks and discussed their favorite saloon. The old grim-visaged veterans, who paraded with service stripes from the wrist to the elbow and who had baked and fried before on alkali plains, chewed placidly and held their peace, with a vigilant gray eye peering from beneath a bushy brow, while the keen-edged weapons of sun and fever and discomfort were blunted on their leathery hides.
A spatter of firing from the left, and the air was cleft by queer, uncanny sounds. They heard a patter of feet in the road and saw the other company streaming toward the trench.
"Ta-ta! Rise up!" sang the bugle. They rose up, some eagerly, some wearily, some sleepily, all willingly.
"Up with you, boys 1 Get at 'em! Run 'em out! Give 'em hell!" "Hell" is a good word in connection with anything military. It is not profane; indeed, the only trouble is that it is too mild. The Krags began to answer the Mausers and Remingtons. A yell went up, and the enemy began to leave their trenches. Many, however, stayed. Some of the Americans stopped before they reached the trench, but none went back. The doctor was well in the lead, because it was safer there. The men in khaki overran the trench, and fought their way raggedly into the town, where they found many peaceful "amigos" in their peasant costumes, most of whom were smoking quietly. All were dripping with perspiration, however, and one or two showed red blotches through their linen clothes. Along the shore, numerous outrigger canoes were paddling vigorously across the river's mouth. The presidente hastened to the "K. O." to assure him of his enduring sympathy with the American cause and to deplore the resistance offered by many quarrelsome citizens over whom he had no control. There was fresh earth on the front of his tunic, a black smudge across his right cheek, and a large tear in the crown of his new straw hat. Everybody was resting but the doctor and his satellites. A boy fresh from college and wearing a red cross upon his sleeve was directing some Chinese coolies in carrying the wounded to a near-by hut. The doctor made his way to a captain.
"Got any prisoners, Miller?"
"I want some one to carry some of these shot people back. I've got a couple of nasty compound fractures. Our boys are played out. Why can't I impress some of these scoundrels?"
"’T won't do. They're peaceful citizens." The captain grinned. "Ask the major."
The doctor asked the major.
"Yes, take the whole outfit if you want. If they kick, bat 'em over the head with your gun. Orderly!" A country boy of seventeen saluted. "Give Captain Miller my compliments, and tell him to detail a dozen men for the doctor to escort the wounded back to camp."
There were violent protests on the part of the natives, but the old Hibernian corporal in charge of the escort gave one of them an argument that floored him. After that there was no more hesitation. A native dreads a blow from a white man's fist. It is an unknown quantity. Extra stretchers were quickly constructed from bamboos and palm thatch lashed together with tough grass twine. The little procession moved off down the road. Later the rest of the company would abandon the town and the Filipinos would reënter it; but such is war.
As they were about to start, a couple of soldiers came from the town, carrying a wounded native. He had shot one of them through the forearm, but that did not signify: fighting is an open game.
Half-way back a man sat up suddenly on his stretcher, gasped a woman's name—and died. It did not matter much. He had had dysentery for five months, and it is better to die of bullet than of bowel trouble.
Another man began to bleed from the armpit, and the compress would not control the hemorrhage. The doctor noticed it, and called a halt.
"Corporal, leave me an intelligent man with plenty of nerve, and go on. I've got to fix this fellow."
"Very good, sir. Johnston's a college graduate. Johnston, fall out and stay with the docthor. Won't ye have some wan to watch the nagurs, sir?"
"Yes; you might leave me another man." He was stripping off the soldier's shirt. The axillary artery bleeds fast.
"Rooney, fallout! Forward, march! Good luck, docthor!"
"Johnston, I want you to give this man some chloroform. Do you know how?"
"I never tried it, sir, but I think I can."
"All right." He opened his field-case and took out the necessary tools.
The doctor had never seen the subclavian tied, but he "cut through all the Latin names" until he struck the artery and passed a ligature around it. Twice the man got too much chloroform, and once or twice he did not get enough; but the bleeding stopped, and, strange to say, both wounds afterward healed.
It was four o'clock before they reached camp, and dark before the wounded could be left for the night. When they were left it was with plenty of operating in sight for the following day.
The hospital, already crowded, was filled to overflowing. Then the hospital rations ran low, and the doctor was beginning to cast covetous eyes upon the rotund bodies of the caribao. The following morning, however, as he looked seaward in search of the delinquent steamer, he received a shock. In the offing lay a bulky, gleaming vessel that, seemed to tower upward in story after story of shining deck-houses. She had a big white funnel with a black rim around the top, and from her foretopmast truck fluttered a small white flag with a scarlet cross. A launch had just left her, and the doctor could see it mount and disappear behind the swelling rollers that boomed over the beach.
The orderly of the day before sent sharp echoes along the vaulted corridor.
"The major's compliments, and he would like to see you, sir."
The doctor slipped into his blouse and hurried over to headquarters. He found the major sitting at a rosewood table in his shirtsleeves, poring over a dirty map and puffing at a cheroot a foot long. He looked up, and blew the ashes off the map.
"Doctor, the hospital-ship arrived early in the morning, and brings us orders to abandon this place and send all of our sick and wounded aboard. Will you arrange to move them as soon as possible?"
"The best way you can. The artillery and cavalry will be out of here by noon. They claim that we're not strong enough to hold the place."
"Good Lord! we took it. I guess we can hold it."
"Orders are orders. You can get bull-carts enough."
"Bull-carts, major, for compound fractures! And just at the end of the rainy season, too. You know what the roads are."
"Well, how could you move them comfortably?"
"Balloons are the only things I can think of. They seem to think we can handle dysenteries and rheumatisms like canned goods. And as for gunshot fractures—pshaw! it makes me sick."
"Well, doctor, it's got to be managed someway. Can't leave the sick, and we've got to go."
"They're all sick—the whole battalion."
"Including the doctor. You 'd better get a relief from the ship. Had any fever—"
"103 for the last five days. Well—how soon must I get 'em out?"
"As soon as you can—by to-morrow night, anyway."
"I'll want a big detail to handle hospital stuff."
"The adjutant'll give you all you want."
Men were despatched to secure all the available bull-carts; others who could hardly carry themselves carried heavy hospital stores. The surgical cases were forced to go undressed. At noon the artillery and cavalry left with much clatter and jangle. Toward dusk the outposts sighted a large party of natives crossing the road half a mile away. In the hospital the patients' rifles and belts were laid beside their cots. The guard was doubled. Some slept at their posts from sheer weakness and fatigue, but there were no drumhead court martials in consequence.
As soon as it grew light enough, the work of moving the patients began. Temporary splints of bamboo were applied over the ordinary dressings in the fracture cases. The sick helped the crippled to move, and the crippled were moved without a murmur. A long sergeant, with a face like a mummy and limbs that rattled when they struck together, dropped a photograph from his bursting blanket bag. A mate beside him picked it up and looked at it curiously.
"Who's that good-lookin' feller, Jack?"
"You! fer heaven's sake!"
That was all, but he helped him more gently into the cart, and carefully pillowed his head on his folded blanket. The sick were loaded, four to a cart, and the five-mile trip began. The ship's boats could not land upon the beach near the camp, as the surf was too high, so they had to go around to the river's mouth. Bull-carts are not adapted to ambulance use. The box is small and square, and set solidly on a heavy axle. The wheels are the transverse sections of a tree. Springs are unknown. At the end of the rainy season a Filipino road resembles a flight of steps laid flatwise. To travel one even in a springy volante is like riding a lame camel. Most of the way the road led across scorching meadows, where the dust of the first bull-carts and the armed escort hid the sufferings of those that came behind. Some wilted into the bottom of the carts in huddled heaps, their heads thumping against the side with every jolt. Others hung halfway out, their arms swinging grotesquely, and the burning rays blazing into their half-closed eyes. Their canteens were soon dry, and their tongues got caked and hard. Several of the wounded began to bleed, and that attracted the flies. When they presently reached a palm grove, the doctor stopped the procession and sent some of the natives up after the green nuts. One green cocoanut will furnish a deep drink to three thirsty men, and the milk is deliciously flavored. Those are the things that men remember; they seem to forget the agony of thirst.
Half-way to the boat they got a few stray shots from a hillside five hundred yards away. One of the bullets went through a wounded private's hand. Just before they reached the landing, there was a wide, shallow creek to cross. Over it a bridge was built of bamboo and thatch. The supports were stout pieces of bamboo firmly planted in the mud, and supporting stringers of the same material, that were lashed in place with strong, flat withes of bark. The flooring, also of bamboo, was thickly covered with thatch, that choked the interstices so that the foot of a draft-animal could not slip through. A bridge like this is strong, but not firm. The first cart went a little too near the edge, as the overhanging thatch concealed the margin of the string-piece. This threw all of the weight upon the latter, which buckled gently down, sliding bull, cart, and passengers quietly into the ooze. It was not a long fall, and the landing was soft; but, once in the grateful wetness, the caribao refused to budge. The cart had fallen on its side, and the patients were thrown roughly into the water; but fortunately they were fever patients, not wounded, so the mishap mattered little as mishaps go.
It was dusk when they reached the river-bank, where they found a small white launch with a large green stripe upon her side. She had in tow four big boats, into which the patients were promptly packed. The doctor went out with the last boat, to hear the latest six-weeks-old news, and to get a cold drink. Pale-faced, unshaven men in pajamas leaned lazily on the rail and watched the wounded as they came aboard. A hospital steward, with a pencil and paper, tallied the latter like pieces of cargo. But they did not care, for they caught a glimpse of clean, cool wards, fresh, snowy linen, and behind a curtain a porcelain bath-tub. They saw an ice-cooler with round frozen beads of moisture, and over their heads a big electric fan was whirring with a cooling hum. One poor skeleton with dysentery thought of his brother, filled with fever, who was to stay ashore with his company, and the tears came. Most of the men thought more of their bunkies ashore than of their own good fortune.
Forward in the mess-room the doctor was sitting in the draft of the doors that opened on each side. His blouse was unbuttoned, and he had a drink six inches tall, composed of gin, lime-juice, sliced pineapple, sugar, seltzer, and ice. This sensuous combination is known as a "gin bath." The doctor thought he would like to bathe in one every afternoon of his life. The mess-room Japs were spreading clean linen on the table; against the bulkhead a music-box was discoursing sweetly the latest popular airs. The doctor's eyes wandered dreamily up and down shelves filled with the newest publications, then rested on the iceberg floating in his "bath." He thought of his poor old major, and sighed deeply.
An orderly saluted in the doorway.
"One of the patients just come aboard very bad, sir. The nurse would like to have you see him."
"Which one?" asked the shore doctor, wearily.
"The tall, thin sergeant, sir."
"Yes; he'll die to-night. Too bad; just when he's struck something to live for."
The corporal at the gangway came to the mess-room door.
"Launch's going ashore, sir."
"All right. Good-by, you fellows! Thanks for the magazines. Good night!" And the doctor returned to the glories of war.
- Military slang for commanding officer.