Western Wednesdays—THE SOLDIER’S WAY

The Soldier’s Way

by Dane Coolidge

CHAPTER ONE

The tidings of war were in the air when into the plaza at Del Norte, where adventurers from all over the world had gathered, there drifted yet another derelict. He was young and straight and dressed in decent black, but the wild look was there in his eyes. Many glanced at him curiously as he sat by the old cannon, his emotional face drawn with pain, his tapering hands clutched before him, and one man turned and looked again at his hands. It was Sergeant Bogan, recruiting agent for Montaño and his Army of Liberation, but he passed on and bided his time. The hands were soft and slender, yet full of supple strength, the signs of a high-grade mechanic, but the man himself was too fine. There were other derelicts, already starved and broken, who would enlist for the price of a meal—the white-handed stranger could wait.

The sun had sunk low behind the Mexican Sierras, where the Army of Liberation lay hidden, when Bruce Whittle roused up from his thoughts. The light of his world had been put out suddenly and night was closing in upon him; there was a great pain in his breast and the memory of a kiss that was driving him to black despair. He rose up suddenly and that evening in Fronteras, across the river in Mexico, Beanie Bogan saw him playing the games and marked him for his own. The games were crooked, and, when a man lost, he was generally ready to enlist. Bogan drew in closer, glancing out from beneath bushy eyebrows like a watchful, rat-catching terrier, and at last the final card was turned. Whittle rose up slowly, his eyes on the cheating dealer, a fighting snarl on his lips, and then he clutched at the stakes.

“You can’t rob me!” he cried.

As the dealer reached for his pistol, Whittle slapped him across the face. There was a loud report, a crashing of tables, and a rush of feet for the entrance, and then, as the house was plunged into darkness, strong arms seized Whittle from behind and dragged him out a side door.

“Nix! Nix on that stuff!” panted a hoarse voice in his ear. “The rurales will get you, sure. Stand up…you ain’t hurt…and now beat it for the river or you’ll rot in a Mexican jail.”

Whittle’s knees were trembling, his strength had fled, but at the word jail he shook himself free.

“No, no!” he gasped. “I’d die! I couldn’t stand it!” And led by the resolute Bogan, he ran until they crossed to Del Norte.

“Now,” said Bogan as he led him to a card room and poured out a glass of liquor, “drink that, and tell me what’s the idee.”

“I don’t drink,” answered Whittle, and, sinking down in a chair, he buried his face in his hands. Death had been so near, and yet it had passed, and now he was weak and faint.

“Oh, I see,” observed Bogan, and pulled down his lip.

“You see what?” demanded Whittle.

Bogan evaded the question by raising his glass in the air. “Here’s to ’em,” he said enigmatically.

“To whom?”

“To the women, God bless them. If it wasn’t for them, I’d lose many a likely recruit.”

A flush of anger came over Whittle’s pale face and mounted to the roots of his hair. “You take too much for granted,” he answered shortly, but Bogan shook his head.

“Nope,” he said, “when it isn’t booze, it’s always a woman that drives a man to…that.” He jerked his head in the direction of Fronteras, and Whittle reached for his glass.

“You are mistaken,” he said, and drank down the whiskey. “Now who are you and what do you want?”

“That’s the stuff!” Bogan applauded. “Put it down and have another, and I’ll let you in on something good. You’re a mechanic, ain’t you? I knew it by the look of you…and perhaps you’re a pretty good shot? Well, how would you like now to join Montaño’s army and come out and help fix our guns?”

“What? Enlist as a soldier? In the Mexican army?”

“Ah, nah, nah!” burst out Bogan impatiently. “You don’t get the idee at all. I’m Montaño’s agent and I’m raking the town for recruits for the Foreign Legion. He’s got lots of Mexes but it’s Americans he’s after, and he pays ’em two hundred a month. Two hundred dollars gold, and everything found, and a cracking good horse to ride, and, when we take Fronteras, as we will in jig time, you’ll come in for your share of the loot. And when the war is over, if you stand by the chief, you get a nice little Mexican girl and a grant of good land to boot. Nah, listen, now. Didn’t I follow you over to that gambling house and keep you from getting killed? Well, then, where’s your gratitude?”

He sat back and thrust out his jaw belligerently, but Whittle did not reply. He was living in a daze in which some things were clear and others far away and confused, but he felt no obligation of gratitude. Left alone, his troubles would have been over. Not only that but she would be free, with only his memory to haunt her. But now—he regarded his rescuer malevolently.

“Why should I thank you for that,” he asked, “when I did it on purpose to get killed?”

“What? A fine-looking young feller like you? Ahh, forget it and take a drink! Nah, drink your whiskey and listen to me now…don’t go and get killed for no woman! They ain’t worth it …none of ’em. And here’s another thing, pardner. Things always look different the next day. You may be cast down now but tomorrow you’ll feel different…and there’s nothing to kill grief like a good fight. When you’re up in the saddle and the boys are all yelling and you ride down on ’em like a bat out of hell, what’s a woman then, or anything else? And if you go out, you die like a man.”

He nodded grimly, and, as Whittle’s eyes gleamed, he laid back his old Army shirt.

“Look at that,” he said, and showed three lines plowed like furrows through the shaggy hair of his breast. “Machine-gun fire,” he boasted, “over at Villa Nueva, but do you think I laid down and quit? I did not,” he affirmed, “and, when I cash in, I’ll take a few Mexicans with me.” He swelled out his chest and his little green eyes snapped and sparkled with a daredevil smile.

“Tell me about it,” said Whittle hoarsely. “Did many of your men get killed? And how did you happen to escape?”

“Now you’re talking like a man,” observed Bogan cheerfully. “Take another drink and we’ll make a soldier out of you yet. It was badly handled, because Montaño’s no general, but here’s the way of it …we was making a night attack. Buck O’Donnell was in the lead with his belt full of bombs, and all the fighting Irish at his back. Then come Montaño and the rest of the Mexicans and the street was as dark as a pocket. Up the calle we slipped, never making a sound, until we see the cuartel just ahead…and then hurrr-rup, she broke loose from up on the roof and they mowed us down like grass. We went down in a bunch, with me underneath, and three bullets just cut my breast. Sure we’d planned a surprise, but the Federals was waiting for us . . . some yaller-belly had tipped ’em off. I laid there a minute till they’d run through their first clips, and then I rose up and run. There was a barbed-wire entanglement between me and the brush, but I sifted through it, leaving most of my clothes, and never stopped till I got to the river.”

“And the others?” asked Whittle.

“Some got to a house and made a stand, but it was battered down with artillery. There was seven got away, out of thirty-odd Americans, and Montaño himself got hit twice.”

“Then why do you go on? Are you interested in the revolution or…?”

“No, here’s the point,” expounded Bogan. “I’m a soldier, see? And a soldier does his duty. He never quits, and he never weakens, and he takes a proper pride. Three months ago I was over at the fort… top sergeant in B Company of the Seventh . . . when this ruction broke out down below. Montaño sent an agent to take on some experienced men and O’Donnell and the bunch of us bought out. We’d seen service before, in Cuba and the Philippines, and we were crazy to mix in on the game, but the Federals proved too much for us. We were badly led and they wiped us out, but they learned that the gringos can fight. We walked up to their guns, and even then we didn’t quit, and we’re going back again! What say, do you want to sign up?”

He whipped out a paper and laid it before Whittle while he ran on with his recruiting patter.

“You don’t join no Mexicans. You join the Foreign Legion, made up exclusive of white men. Gambolier is in command and he’s a titled Frenchman that has been through their military schools. Every man that joins is a soldier and a gentleman and I can promise you active service at once. I’m sending ’em across, ten or twelve every night, and the peons are flocking to our banners. All Mexico is in revolt, the Federals are deserting, and their commands are confined to the large towns. We’ve got three thousand men within twenty miles of Fronteras and this time we’re going to take the town. If you take on now, you get two hundred a month and….”

“All right!” cried Whittle, carried away by some madness. “I’ll go…and I’ll never turn back.”

“That’s the boy!” cheered Bogan, thrusting the pen into his hand. “Sign your name right there on that line. And now, come on, the boys are waiting to go across.”

He rose up and started for the door, but Whittle drew back and hesitated.

“What? Are we going to start now?” he asked.

“That’s right. I’ll take you down to Rico’s place… that’s the dump where we keep the men…and we’ll cross up the river, about midnight. That is, unless you want to stop over, and you won’t, when you see the joint. It’s full of dirty, stinking Mexicans and fighting shanty Irish, all hollering for booze at once. We have to take all kinds, you know. But come on. What are you stopping for now?”

“I want to write a letter,” answered Whittle doggedly. “And . . . I’d like to be alone.”

“Huh, some skirt,” muttered Bogan as he fidgeted outside the door, “but I’ll wait …he’s worth ten dollars to me, when he’s crossed.”

He paced up and down, went out and got a drink, and came back and peered in through the door. His soldier of fortune had his head on the table and the paper lay before him, untouched. 

CHAPTER ONE

The tidings of war were in the air when into the plaza at Del Norte, where adventurers from all over the world had gathered, there drifted yet another derelict. He was young and straight and dressed in decent black, but the wild look was there in his eyes. Many glanced at him curiously as he sat by the old cannon, his emotional face drawn with pain, his tapering hands clutched before him, and one man turned and looked again at his hands. It was Sergeant Bogan, recruiting agent for Montaño and his Army of Liberation, but he passed on and bided his time. The hands were soft and slender, yet full of supple strength, the signs of a high-grade mechanic, but the man himself was too fine. There were other derelicts, already starved and broken, who would enlist for the price of a meal—the white-handed stranger could wait.

The sun had sunk low behind the Mexican Sierras, where the Army of Liberation lay hidden, when Bruce Whittle roused up from his thoughts. The light of his world had been put out suddenly and night was closing in upon him; there was a great pain in his breast and the memory of a kiss that was driving him to black despair. He rose up suddenly and that evening in Fronteras, across the river in Mexico, Beanie Bogan saw him playing the games and marked him for his own. The games were crooked, and, when a man lost, he was generally ready to enlist. Bogan drew in closer, glancing out from beneath bushy eyebrows like a watchful, rat-catching terrier, and at last the final card was turned. Whittle rose up slowly, his eyes on the cheating dealer, a fighting snarl on his lips, and then he clutched at the stakes.

“You can’t rob me!” he cried.

As the dealer reached for his pistol, Whittle slapped him across the face. There was a loud report, a crashing of tables, and a rush of feet for the entrance, and then, as the house was plunged into darkness, strong arms seized Whittle from behind and dragged him out a side door.

“Nix! Nix on that stuff!” panted a hoarse voice in his ear. “The rurales will get you, sure. Stand up…you ain’t hurt…and now beat it for the river or you’ll rot in a Mexican jail.”

Whittle’s knees were trembling, his strength had fled, but at the word jail he shook himself free.

“No, no!” he gasped. “I’d die! I couldn’t stand it!” And led by the resolute Bogan, he ran until they crossed to Del Norte.

“Now,” said Bogan as he led him to a card room and poured out a glass of liquor, “drink that, and tell me what’s the idee.”

“I don’t drink,” answered Whittle, and, sinking down in a chair, he buried his face in his hands. Death had been so near, and yet it had passed, and now he was weak and faint.

“Oh, I see,” observed Bogan, and pulled down his lip.

“You see what?” demanded Whittle.

Bogan evaded the question by raising his glass in the air. “Here’s to ’em,” he said enigmatically.

“To whom?”

“To the women, God bless them. If it wasn’t for them, I’d lose many a likely recruit.”

A flush of anger came over Whittle’s pale face and mounted to the roots of his hair. “You take too much for granted,” he answered shortly, but Bogan shook his head.

“Nope,” he said, “when it isn’t booze, it’s always a woman that drives a man to…that.” He jerked his head in the direction of Fronteras, and Whittle reached for his glass.

“You are mistaken,” he said, and drank down the whiskey. “Now who are you and what do you want?”

“That’s the stuff!” Bogan applauded. “Put it down and have another, and I’ll let you in on something good. You’re a mechanic, ain’t you? I knew it by the look of you…and perhaps you’re a pretty good shot? Well, how would you like now to join Montaño’s army and come out and help fix our guns?”

“What? Enlist as a soldier? In the Mexican army?”

“Ah, nah, nah!” burst out Bogan impatiently. “You don’t get the idee at all. I’m Montaño’s agent and I’m raking the town for recruits for the Foreign Legion. He’s got lots of Mexes but it’s Americans he’s after, and he pays ’em two hundred a month. Two hundred dollars gold, and everything found, and a cracking good horse to ride, and, when we take Fronteras, as we will in jig time, you’ll come in for your share of the loot. And when the war is over, if you stand by the chief, you get a nice little Mexican girl and a grant of good land to boot. Nah, listen, now. Didn’t I follow you over to that gambling house and keep you from getting killed? Well, then, where’s your gratitude?”

He sat back and thrust out his jaw belligerently, but Whittle did not reply. He was living in a daze in which some things were clear and others far away and confused, but he felt no obligation of gratitude. Left alone, his troubles would have been over. Not only that but she would be free, with only his memory to haunt her. But now—he regarded his rescuer malevolently.

“Why should I thank you for that,” he asked, “when I did it on purpose to get killed?”



“What? A fine-looking young feller like you? Ahh, forget it and take a drink! Nah, drink your whiskey and listen to me now…don’t go and get killed for no woman! They ain’t worth it …none of ’em. And here’s another thing, pardner. Things always look different the next day. You may be cast down now but tomorrow you’ll feel different…and there’s nothing to kill grief like a good fight. When you’re up in the saddle and the boys are all yelling and you ride down on ’em like a bat out of hell, what’s a woman then, or anything else? And if you go out, you die like a man.”

He nodded grimly, and, as Whittle’s eyes gleamed, he laid back his old Army shirt.

“Look at that,” he said, and showed three lines plowed like furrows through the shaggy hair of his breast. “Machine-gun fire,” he boasted, “over at Villa Nueva, but do you think I laid down and quit? I did not,” he affirmed, “and, when I cash in, I’ll take a few Mexicans with me.” He swelled out his chest and his little green eyes snapped and sparkled with a daredevil smile.

“Tell me about it,” said Whittle hoarsely. “Did many of your men get killed? And how did you happen to escape?”

“Now you’re talking like a man,” observed Bogan cheerfully. “Take another drink and we’ll make a soldier out of you yet. It was badly handled, because Montaño’s no general, but here’s the way of it …we was making a night attack. Buck O’Donnell was in the lead with his belt full of bombs, and all the fighting Irish at his back. Then come Montaño and the rest of the Mexicans and the street was as dark as a pocket. Up the calle we slipped, never making a sound, until we see the cuartel just ahead…and then hurrr-rup, she broke loose from up on the roof and they mowed us down like grass. We went down in a bunch, with me underneath, and three bullets just cut my breast. Sure we’d planned a surprise, but the Federals was waiting for us . . . some yaller-belly had tipped ’em off. I laid there a minute till they’d run through their first clips, and then I rose up and run. There was a barbed-wire entanglement between me and the brush, but I sifted through it, leaving most of my clothes, and never stopped till I got to the river.”

“And the others?” asked Whittle.

“Some got to a house and made a stand, but it was battered down with artillery. There was seven got away, out of thirty-odd Americans, and Montaño himself got hit twice.”

“Then why do you go on? Are you interested in the revolution or…?”

“No, here’s the point,” expounded Bogan. “I’m a soldier, see? And a soldier does his duty. He never quits, and he never weakens, and he takes a proper pride. Three months ago I was over at the fort… top sergeant in B Company of the Seventh . . . when this ruction broke out down below. Montaño sent an agent to take on some experienced men and O’Donnell and the bunch of us bought out. We’d seen service before, in Cuba and the Philippines, and we were crazy to mix in on the game, but the Federals proved too much for us. We were badly led and they wiped us out, but they learned that the gringos can fight. We walked up to their guns, and even then we didn’t quit, and we’re going back again! What say, do you want to sign up?”

He whipped out a paper and laid it before Whittle while he ran on with his recruiting patter.

“You don’t join no Mexicans. You join the Foreign Legion, made up exclusive of white men. Gambolier is in command and he’s a titled Frenchman that has been through their military schools. Every man that joins is a soldier and a gentleman and I can promise you active service at once. I’m sending ’em across, ten or twelve every night, and the peons are flocking to our banners. All Mexico is in revolt, the Federals are deserting, and their commands are confined to the large towns. We’ve got three thousand men within twenty miles of Fronteras and this time we’re going to take the town. If you take on now, you get two hundred a month and….”

“All right!” cried Whittle, carried away by some madness. “I’ll go…and I’ll never turn back.”

“That’s the boy!” cheered Bogan, thrusting the pen into his hand. “Sign your name right there on that line. And now, come on, the boys are waiting to go across.”

He rose up and started for the door, but Whittle drew back and hesitated.

“What? Are we going to start now?” he asked.

“That’s right. I’ll take you down to Rico’s place… that’s the dump where we keep the men…and we’ll cross up the river, about midnight. That is, unless you want to stop over, and you won’t, when you see the joint. It’s full of dirty, stinking Mexicans and fighting shanty Irish, all hollering for booze at once. We have to take all kinds, you know. But come on. What are you stopping for now?”

“I want to write a letter,” answered Whittle doggedly. “And . . . I’d like to be alone.”

“Huh, some skirt,” muttered Bogan as he fidgeted outside the door, “but I’ll wait …he’s worth ten dollars to me, when he’s crossed.”

He paced up and down, went out and got a drink, and came back and peered in through the door. His soldier of fortune had his head on the table and the paper lay before him, untouched.

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