Authors: L. Ron Hubbard
The Japanese was about to bite off another short answer when he recalled the import
of the news. It was worse than a mere verbal rebuff.
“Your orders are on file with the second division but our colonel refuses to allow
you to proceed toward Shunkien. Your burden is to be returned to you and you are to
be started for the coast tomorrow morning. We cannot allow you either an armed escort
or any vehicle. Now get out of my way.”
“You refuse to let me through to the city?” persisted Mitchell.
“Naturally. We have too much to do already without being bothered with you. Those
are the orders of our colonel and if you attempt to disobey them we can only resort
to imprisonment of you and your party for the duration of this unfortunate incident.
Thank you very much and get out of my way.”
The officer ducked around him and was gone. Mitchell stared after him with mayhem
plain upon his face. The sentry, alarmed, prodded Mitchell in the back and motioned
toward Mitchell’s tent.
Dispiritedly, Mitchell trooped back down the company street to throw himself on his
cot and beat his clenched fist into his pillow. He knew his fate was written. There
were too many Japanese swarming between this camp and Shunkien. Any attempt at force
would be suicidal.
He knew these things and he also knew his orders.
But he could do nothing. He had failed.
He lay back, wincing as he touched his aching side, and stared holes into the darkness.
smoke from the burning shores of the
rolled in suffocating waves across the decks of the USS
Saturday’s sun made small impression on the gloom which overhung Shanghai and now
it sat straight overhead, a spinning sphere as red as blood.
Blackstone, V. G., commanding, was piped over the side. He was in a mood as lowering
as the day. Unhappy Captain Davis started to retreat from the gangway but he had been
“Davis!” said Blackstone. “Report to my quarters immediately.”
Davis followed with none of the esprit he had displayed in a score of landing parties
and in a dozen battles.
Blackstone hurled his cap to his desk and sat down so hard that his chair shrieked
in protest. His big red hands shuffled through his papers and came up with a
Blackstone read the radio and balled it up. He spun around and glared. “I suppose
you think the C-in-C invited me over for a tea party. I suppose you think he complimented
me upon my strategy.” Unnecessarily, he roared, “Well, he didn’t! I’ve been on a carpet
hotter’n boilerplates. And all because I was fool enough to listen to a half-baked
captain of Marines! You see this?” He rattled the radiogram in the air and then crunched
it up again. “They haven’t heard of your damned Marines in Shunkien. Jackson is yowling
for relief and here we are reporting back in Shanghai without having completed our
mission. Here it is noon Saturday!”
“They’ve got until midnight,” said Davis feebly, his usually walnut visage a dull
“Bah! I’ll tell you what’s happened to them. That booze-fighting sergeant of yours
with liquor and he’s somewhere in Shantung right now spending that keg of gold!”
“Sir,” said Davis, stiffly, “Mitchell—”
“To hell with Mitchell! Two Americans in the consulate are already down with cholera
and it’s only a matter of hours before they all die! They’ll all be dead! And who’ll
take the blasting for that? Me! Ohhhhhhh,” he shivered, “if I could only get my hands
on that precious pair, I’d—”
“Perhaps they’ve been killed, sir,” said Captain Davis.
“Killed! They better get themselves killed before they ever show up on this ship again!
I should have known better than to let myself be talked into this. ‘He knows the country!’
‘He’s a good man.’ ‘He won’t get into trouble!’
They’ve had time to walk to Timbuktu and back.”
“I still think, sir,” said Davis without any hope whatever, “that they’ll report.
It must have been pretty difficult getting through. You said yourself that they might
encounter difficulties. That they might even be killed. You said—”
“So you throw my own words back in my teeth, do you? See here, Captain Davis, I’ll
have you know that I’m running this ship. No cockeyed Marine is going to stand there
what I said. You’ve said too much already. Ohhhhhhh, this will go pretty hard with
you. Now get out. I’m sick of looking at you.”
Davis hurriedly removed himself and stomped down the passageway back into wardroom
country, swearing as he went. He stopped once and glared at empty space.
“So you can’t follow orders, eh? So you go stumbling around China getting ginned up,
do you? By God, I’ll bobtail you to a sailor! I’ll cut off your stripes and make you
eat them. I’ll get you a bad conduct and send you to
and string you up to the yard.
Make a fool out of me, will you?!”
A mess attendant came out and stared wide-eyed at the empty space and then at the
Davis turned and almost ran over the boy.
The mess attendant vanished, shaking at the expression he had seen on the captain’s
face, wondering that he had escaped with his life.
was not until one o’clock Saturday that Mitchell, James, gunnery sergeant USMC, was
finally convinced by the Japanese that the Shunkien area was not to be crossed. At
least, he appeared to be convinced, as he gave up.
A wind was blowing down from the northern plains, digging up big clouds of yellow
dust. It stirred in the skirts of the olive green overcoat and lifted and lowered
its left lapel. Mitchell’s cheeks were sunken and his eyes burned too brightly. He
stood very straight before three Japanese officers.
“Thanks to an error of your planes,” said Mitchell, “it will be necessary for me to
request a stretcher in which to transport my command. And I also wish to count the
gold in that keg before I accept it from you.”
“You think, perhaps, that we are dishonest?” said the proud officer snappishly.
“If there’s any of it gone, I’ll be checked for it the rest of my life. You will have
enough to answer when my commanding officer knows I have been detained.”
It was sheer bluff, but this same bluff was giving him freedom at least.
“We care nothing about your commanding officer. In fact,” stated the Japanese officer
gratingly, “we have something to say ourselves about the impudence of the United States
sending armed Marines into our battle areas. If you wish to know the truth, it is
very likely that we shall report this in the strongest terms. We object to such a
clumsy attempt at gathering military intelligence about our fighting tactics.”
“So that’s why you won’t let me go on.”
“Do you think we are stubborn without reason? Do you think we wish to have our activities
against Shunkien, our methods of attack, our losses, our armament, our numerical strength,
reported? You swaggering, blustering, overbearing whites think to have something to
say about this campaign. I regret our ability to furnish them with such intelligence.
You will find that news of you will have gone ahead and you are to report into every
Japanese post of command between here and Liaochow. Failure at any one post will cost
you your liberty. We regret,” he added with great insincerity, “our inability to provide
you with conveyance and escort. But we have other things to do besides shepherd lost
“That’s all right about that,” said Mitchell with strange docility. “Give me a stretcher
and we’ll get out of here.”
The Japanese officer turned to his major and received his concurrence. The stretcher
was brought up.
Mitchell turned to the reverend. “Take the other end of this and we’ll get Toughey.”
“But . . . but he must weigh—”
“Never mind what he weighs. Snap into it.”
The reverend sighed, deploring his son’s tone of voice. He took the front end of the
stretcher and marched.
Toughey looked for news in Mitchell’s face. “Is it east or west, Sarge?”
Toughey’s face lengthened but he said nothing. Goldy was standing at the back of his
tent. She gave Mitchell a quick glance.
“We walk?” said Goldy.
“Naw,” said Toughey. “The general is goin’ to give us his private car and send half
his army along as escort.”
They carefully placed Toughey on the stretcher and Mitchell cut his objections short.
They all felt the strange intensity in Mitchell. His hands were trembling and he was
holding himself too straight.
The reverend staggered under the weight of his end.
“March,” said Mitchell.
The reverend marched, staggering as though under the effect of all the drinks he had
never drunk. His half of Toughey weighed a hundred and eight pounds.
They set Toughey down before the officers’ tents. The keg was there and Mitchell tipped
Mitchell divided the heaped coins three ways and indicated that Goldy and the reverend
were to get down and count.
They counted and the reverend’s mutter of “hundred and seven, hundred and eight, hundred
and nine . . .” was a great handicap to both the sergeant and the girl.
Mitchell’s fingers were practiced and to him these sovereigns were so many chips.
He set them up in piles of twenty-five until he was barricaded by gold. He scooped
some of the other two piles into his reach and checked them.
The Japanese officers looked on with great indignation but Mitchell calmly went on
They finished at last and took their tallies. The gold was all there. Mitchell dumped
it back into the keg, shook it down and battened the lid. He asked for a section of
rope and got it. With this he lashed the keg between the handles of his end of the
“You goin’ to lug that thing clear to the coast?” said Goldy. “I don’t even think
you can lift it!”
“Father is going to carry my pack,” said Mitchell shrugging out of it.
“I . . . er . . . what? Good gracious, James, have you no feeling? Even that short
distance almost pulled my arms from their sockets. I . . .”
Mitchell was fixing the pack so that the reverend could wear it. His father looked
on, taking his pince-nez on and off distractedly. But when the pack was offered he
resignedly let it be put upon him. It almost tipped him over backwards and his glasses
Standing very straight again, Mitchell faced the linguist. “You were forced to send
a communication relative to my orders. Each Japanese PC will try to do this and my
progress will be greatly delayed. You can save your brother officers much time by
giving me a pass which will recognize me to them as well as to any roving patrols
of your cavalry.”
Goldy looked at him perplexedly. He was so very straight, so very precise. She had
seen a man look like that once, just before he had fallen on his face in a dead faint.
But were the rules applying to
applicable to Marines?
The Japanese talked it over gravely. The sound of marching feet was in the air and
they glanced down the road toward an approaching company of reinforcements.
The major gestured abruptly and moved off to greet the new outfit’s commander. The
other officer followed him, leaving the impatient linguist alone.
This officer entered the headquarters tent and came out a moment later, bearing a
printed card on the bottom of which a string of
were not yet dry.
Contemptuously he thrust it in Mitchell’s direction but before Mitchell’s fingers
touched it, the Japanese dropped it to the road and walked off.
Mitchell stood for a moment looking at the officer’s stiff back and then stooped for
the pass. He blew on the ink until it was dry and placed it in his pocket.
“March,” said Mitchell, taking up his end of the leaden stretcher.
The reverend took two or three steps to the left and right as though his feet wanted
to get out from under. Goldy looked critically at his dancing form and found it bad.
She had gotten used to the weight of Toughey’s pack and rifle, had found how to lean
forward to steady the weight. But then, Goldy’s career made her more adaptable where
balance was concerned than the reverend’s.
They moved on down the road, walking in the ditch to get by the seemingly endless
line of Japanese troops which had halted to await further orders. Mitchell did not
glance at the curious barrage of eyes. He was looking straight ahead as though he
could see all the way to infinity through the yellow day. The wind felt good against
his hot cheeks except when a rack of shivers took him.
The four were silent as they trudged. The reverend eagerly kept his ears cocked, certain
that James would stop to rest every tenth step.
But James kept right on shoving the stretcher into the reverend and the reverend could
do nothing but keep going. Soon he had resigned himself to the numbness which crept
up from his wrists to his shoulders, down his shoulders to the small of his back.
His legs appeared to be manufactured of rubber and his glasses, for want of wiping,
grew so foggy he could hardly see where he went. James took care of that.
The Japanese camp diminished behind them, to finally vanish. And then the endless
plains were on every side, relieved only where the wrecked and deserted railroad’s
poles cut sharply against the sky.
“Halt,” said Mitchell.
The reverend set down the end of the stretcher with a weary thump and shucked out
of the pack which had chewed at least a foot into each shoulder. He sat down disconsolately
and wiped his glasses, his movements very slow.
“Feel all right?” said Goldy to Toughey.
“I feel like hell,” said Toughey. “When I think what the skipper is going to do to
us when we show up without having followed orders . . .” He shuddered.
Mitchell brought out the pass and put it in his father’s hands. “Can you read any
“No. That’s Japanese.”
“Sure it’s Japanese,” said Goldy. “Did you think them guys back there talked Eskimo?”
Mitchell took the paper back and looked holes into it. He turned it around in his
hands, muttering, “If I could only be sure. . . .”
“You got an idea?” cried Toughey, struggling up on his elbows. And when Mitchell did
not answer, Toughey turned to Goldy. “He’s got one all right. He always looks like
he’s chewin’ somethin’ when he gets it hot. He’s got one!”
Mitchell was still staring at his paper, his jaws pulsing, his teeth clenched.
“Cut the suspense,” said Goldy. “Are we goin’ to walk to the coast or have you thought
up how to steal an airplane or something?”
Mitchell looked down at Toughey. “We’re going to Shunkien.”
“Oh, good gracious,” mourned the reverend. “If we get caught, and I’m certain we will
be, they’ll lock us up for months! Have you no feeling, James? Really, I should rather
carry this stretcher all the way to Liaochow than to be a prisoner for the remainder
of my life. James, have you no heart?”
“Shut up,” said Toughey. “Orders is orders.”
“It’s shorter,” said Goldy, already aware of the blisters she had lately contracted.
“But how you going to pull this off, huh? They didn’t listen to you back there, why
should they listen to you someplace else?”
“Only posts in the rear have been told about us,” said Mitchell, thinking aloud. “Posts
to the south of Shunkien won’t know a thing. And if this pass merely says to let a
sergeant and party through the Japanese lines, they’ll honor it anywhere.”
“But if we don’t report . . .” began the reverend.
“A United States Consulate is the same as USA soil,” said Mitchell. “To hell with
what happens once we’re there.”
“I beg pardon, James?”
“I said to hell with it.”
“We’ll be caught,” said the reverend. “James, have you no—”
“No! Pick up that pack.”
The reverend picked it up and struggled into it. His dance as he got the stretcher
up was more prolonged than before.
They headed south.
he had an idea,” crowed Toughey.
“It’s shorter anyhow,” said Goldy.
And after that they slogged in silence with the wind pushing them and stirring the
rags of the reverend’s coattails.