28. Funston on the march|
Funston lamented the missed opportunities. They'd only been one day out of Casigurian when those ignorant Macs raided their
food supply. Perhaps they should have gone back and re-provisioned. No
doubt they'd have needed force, perhaps even to raze the village. The
local peasants had precious little for themselves, they'd have fought to the
death. Better them than us, the general thought. Now the whole
mission was in jeopardy, compromised because of hunger and fatigue. Funston
saw no remedy but to go on, but how? Travel slower, conserve strength
and starve, or move faster, become enfeebled and collapse with exhaustion? The
mission all that mattered, he cared little about the cost. If their
adventure was star-crossed, it was the fault of idiots and savages. He'd
not let their incompetence deprive him of what was rightfully his. He'd
capture Aguinaldo single handedly if he had to. Segovia's shrill, lisping
shouts brought Funston out of his reverie.
He looked down the beach and saw the Spanish turncoat lean into Hilario Talplacido's
red, sweating face. "Get up you pig! Have you no shame?"
The portly Filipino narcotics dealer and make-believe colonel lay prostrate
in the sand, blubbering and exhausted from the march. "Lazaro, have
mercy! I can't go another step. Leave me on the trail to die.
I beg you to have pity. Segismundo tells me a difficult mountain lies
in our path just ahead. I'll never make it."
Disdainful of the miserable creature at his feet, Segovia hissed, "If
we didn't need you, you'd already be dead."
An idea suddenly struck Talplacido, and he rose up on one elbow. "I'll
pay. I have money!" He reached into his shirt and pulled out
a fistful of bills. "Surely you can't object if I pay."
Segovia spat in the dirt, and then feigned a kick to the fat man's belly. Talplacido
groaned, opened both hands to protect his flabby midsection, and peso notes
fluttered in a circle around him. "Ask these men to carry you like some
Roman emperor? You're supposed to be their commander. What will
The Filipino waved generally in the direction of the imitation insurrectos. "My
men love me. It pains them to see me in distress. Besides, when
has a Macabebe refused the opportunity to pocket a little silver?"
"Your men! Love you? If they knew you carried that much currency,
they'd have killed you themselves and saved me the trouble." The Spaniard
turned his back and walked away, sending a final warning over his shoulder. "This
column marches in ten minutes with or without you."
General Funston gave the order to get underway, and the invaders dragged themselves
to their feet, four of the strongest transporting the suffering Hilario Talplacido
on a makeshift litter.
In two hours they came to it. A huge fortress wall of black granite,
one hundred feet high, extended into the sea and completely blocked their path. Talplacido
groaned. Not even the strongest men could carry him up the sheer cliff. He
dropped to the ground and begged for death.
Funston ordered the stronger men to climb first, find the most favorable route
to the top, and then assist the weaker men following. Five hours remained
before sundown. A difficult, dangerous climb under the best of circumstances,
in their weakened condition a nighttime ascent meant certain death. As
the column began the slow trek up the rock face, the courier, Segismundo, gave
the general more bad news. "We must reach the top and descend to the
beach on the other side or we will lose a day to the ocean tides."
All afternoon the men struggled to reach the summit. Once there, they
briefly rested and then martialed the strength to hazard the treacherous descent
in the darkness just after sunset under a heavy monsoon cloudburst. Later,
on the beach, a few of the men made palm leaf shelters to protect against the
rain. Others, beyond exhaustion, fell paralyzed to the sand and slept
exposed to the elements.
Dawn broke cold and wet. Segovia detailed several men to gather driftwood
for cook fires, while others searched the beach for clams, mussels and crayfish
- anything edible to go into the stewpots. The soldiers moved like zombies,
joints stiff, their minds benumbed. The small quantities of shellfish
they found when boiled did little but turn their heated water into brackish,
gray slime. Just the smell of it and Burton Mitchell was seized by a paroxysm
of violent stomach spasms.
Only one day's food supply remained, but Funston knew his men had to have
nourishment to get them to their final camp that night, and he ordered half
the remaining rations distributed. Barely two thimblefuls of rice, but
each soldier clutched his portion in greedy, protective fingers and savored
each flyspeck morsel as it went down.
In two hours the tide rose and forced the column into a huge Mangrove swamp
bordered on all sides by a dense, impenetrable jungle. Tormented by
clouds of angry, voracious mosquitoes and stinging black flies, the men waded
for miles through brown, snake-infested water. All day long Lazaro Segovia
shadowed the weary soldiers reminding them of their mission, entreating them
to keep moving and resist the temptation to eat the leeches they pulled from
By mid-afternoon the party broke clear of the swamp and saw in the distance
a tiny native village built on a rocky outcropping at the edge of the sea. "Dinudungan,
sir," Segismundo said. "Aguinaldo maintains an outpost of soldiers there. Palanan
lies just beyond those low hills."
They'd done it, the general said to himself. A hundred miles through
hostile terrain with no food and they hadn't lost a man. One for the
history books, but he had no time to reflect on that pleasant notion. The
most dangerous part of their mission lay before them.
Movement in the village. Funston raised his field glasses and counted
twenty heavily armed insurrectos dressed in clean, white uniforms heading their
way. "Get Talplacido up here fast."