24. Benevolent assimilation

Clarita followed her grandmother down three flights of stairs to the cellar. "How many?"

The fortuneteller held the lantern higher as they descended. "Ten fighters for freedom."

"Ten! I expected thirty!"

"There were thirteen, but three changed their minds and left this evening."

"Ten... Grandmother, what's happening?"

The old woman stopped outside the cellar door, and Clarita saw concern on her face. "Things have changed, my darling. Recently, the Americans have garrisoned troops in every village and hamlet. Soldiers blanket the entire province. They call it 'Benevolent Assimilation,' supposedly for our protection, but now two Filipinos can't have a conversation without an American looking over their shoulders. It's a hateful, insidious policy, and breaking the revolution. People are frightened to make a move. The flow of weapons and supplies from the barrios has been cut to a trickle. If the enemy suspects a villager sympathetic to the cause, he is immediately arrested, the trial short and the verdict predetermined. I'm afraid the tide is turning, my pet. I worry about our future."

"I too worry sometimes, Grandmother, but as long as El Presidente leads, we'll fight with what we have."

Grandmother tapped once, then twice more on the door, entered and ten Filipino peasants got to their feet. Shocked, Clarita signaled the men to sit as she walked among them in the dank cellar. Since she joined the revolution, she'd never seen such a wretched, miserable assortment of recruits. Barefoot, malnourished, sickly and without firearms or ammunition, they were the bottom of the barrel and clearly frightened out of their wits. Barely able to hide her dismay, Clarita smiled and approached one of the men. To make him feel more comfortable, she spoke in his native dialect. "What is your name, sir?"

The man jumped up and leaned on a wooden staff, his face animated. "Mauricio, Senorita ."

"Have you no weapon, Mauricio?"

The man's eyes brightened, and he hopped on one foot for balance while he raised his crutch before him. "Oh, yes. I have this, my lady." Clarita glanced down at the man's foot, twisted at the ankle and dreadfully deformed.

"Here are my weapons, Senorita !" A boy of twelve sprang up and crossed the cellar floor, his outstretched hands proudly displaying two sharpened nipa sheaves and three rusty nails. "I can hide these in my hat and belt, and when the enemy comes close enough, I can stab him in the heart."

Clarita patted the boy's shoulder, and then moved among the recruits until she came to an old man sitting on a tattered blanket away from the others. Emaciated, thin white hair, deeply lined brow and sunken chest, he made no effort to rise. She knelt before him, and the man lifted his head. "I have no weapon, little face."

"Why did you come, Uncle? You should be home with your wife drinking tea, dispensing wisdom in your village."

"I have two sons, Meno and Pio, twins. They joined the revolution last year, and I have not seen them since. I had no choice, I had to come."

Clarita got the men up and gave them their orders for travel. When ready, the two women kissed good-bye and Clarita wiped the tears from her grandmother's leathery cheeks. "You'll have to hurry to get this bunch into the forest before daybreak," the old woman said. "Be careful, the Americans are everywhere. I know I'm a silly old fool, but I'm frightened I'll never see you again."

"General Aguinaldo will devise a way to outsmart the Americans, and the flow of recruits and supplies will resume. Soon you'll have a cellar full of able-bodied patriots, and then as always, I'll be back to get them. Stay well, grandmother."

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1. Fagen arrives in the Philippines

2. White soldiers bring their prejudice with them

3. Fagen hears another side of the story

4. Dinner with Colonel Funston

5. Fagen's first taste of combat

6. Fagen meets Clarita

7. More than fair?

8. The water cure

9. Fagen gets his fortune told

10. Imperialism exposed

11. Sergeant Rivers speaks his mind

12. Genocide

13. Fagen meets El Presidente

14. Bad news comes to Fagen

15. Fate takes over

16. San Lazaro leper hospital

17. An offer Fagen can't refuse

18. Funston makes a plan

19. "Capitan" Fagen

20. Funston assembles his team

21. Morality, ethics and war

22. Jungle encounter

23. Commencement

24. Benevolent assimilation

25. Colonel Bloody Shirt pays a call

26. Fagen declares war on God

27. Major Baston tastes his own medicine

28. Funston on the march

29. Fagen goes home