The Mascot of
Battery B by Lloyd Osbourne
Battery A had a mascot goat, and Battery C a Filipino kid, and
Battery D a parrot that could swear in five languages, but I guess we
were the only battery in the brigade that carried an old lady!
Filipino, nothing! But white as yourself and from Oakland,
California, and I don't suppose I'd be here talking to you now, if it
hadn't been for her.
I had known Benny a long time—Benny was her son, you know, the
only one she had—and when I enlisted at the beginning of the war
Benny wished to do it, too, only he was scared to death, not of the
Spaniards, but his old Ma! So he hung off and on, while I drilled at
the Presidio and rode free on the street cars, and did the little hero
act, and ate pie the whole day long. My! How they used to bring us
pies in them times and boxes of see-gars—and flowers! Flowers to
burn! Well I remember a Wisconsin regiment marching along Market
Street, big splendid men from the up-North woods, every one of them
with a Calla lily stuck in his gun! Oh, it was fine, with the troops
pouring in, and the whole city afire to receive them, and the girls
almost cutting the clothes off your back for souvenirs—and it made
Benny sick to see it all, him clerking in a hardware store and eating
his heart out to go with the boys. He hung back as long as he could,
but at last he couldn't stand it no longer, and the day before we
sailed he went and enlisted in my battery.
He knew there was going to be a rumpus at home and I suppose that
was why he put it off to the very end, not wanting to be plagued to
death or cried over. But when he got into his uniform and had done a
spell of goose-step with the first sergeant, he was so blamed rattled
about going home that he had to take me along too. He lived away off
somewheres in a poorish sort of neighbourhood, all little frame houses
and little front yards about that big, where you could see commuters
watering Calla lilies in their city clothes. Benny's house seemed the
smallest and poorest of the lot, though it had Calla lilies too and
other sorts of flowers, and a mat with "welcome" on it, and some kind
of a dog that licked our hands as we walked up the front steps and
answered to the name of Dook.
Benny pushed open the door and went in, me at his heels, and both
of us nervous as cats. His mother was sitting in a rocker, reading
the evening paper with gold spectacles, and I never saw such a
straight-backed old lady in my life, nor any so tall and thin and
commanding. She looked up at us, kind of startled to see two soldiers
walking into her kitchen, and Benny smiled a silly smile and said:
"Mommer, I'm off to help Dooey in the Fillypines!"
I guess he thought she'd jump at him or something, for he had
always been a mother's boy and minded everything she said, though he
was twenty-eight years old and rising-nine—but all she did was to
draw in her breath sharp and sudden, so you could hear the whistle of
it, and then two big tears rolled out under her specs.
"Don't feel bad about it, Mommer," said Benny in a snuffly voice.
She never said a word, but got up from the chair and came over to
where Benny was, very white and trembly, and looking at his army coat
like it was a shroud.
"Oh, my son, my son!" she said, kind of choking over the words.
"I couldn't stay behind when all the boys was going," he said.
I saw he was holding back all he could to keep from crying, and I
didn't blame him either, as we was to sail the next day and the old
lady was his Ma. It's them good-byes that break a soldier all up. So I
lit out and played with the dog and made him jump through my hands and
fetch sticks and give his paw (he was quite a RE-markable dog, that
dog, though his breeding wasn't much), while I could hear them inside,
talking and talking, and the old lady's voice running on about the
danger of drink and how he mustn't sleep in wet clothes or give
back-talk to his officers—it was wonderful the horse-sense that old
lady had—and how he must respeck the uniform he wore and be cheerful
and willing and brave, like his sainted father who was dead—all that
mothers say and sometimes what soldiers do—and through it all there
was a pleasant rattle of dishes and the sound of the fire being poked
up, and Benny asking where's the table-cloth, and was there another
pie? By and by I was called in, and there, sure enough, the table was
spread, and we were both made to sit down while the old lady
skirmished around and wiped her eyes when we weren't looking.
We had beefsteak, warmed-over pigs' feet, coffee, potato cakes,
fresh lettuce, Graham gems, and two kinds of pie, and the next day we
sailed for Manila.
Them early days in the Fillypines was the toughest proposition I
was ever up against. Things hadn't settled down as they did
afterward, nobody knowing where he was at, and all of us shoved up to
the front higgeldy-piggeldy; and, being Regulars, they gave us the
heavy end of it, having to do all the fighting while the Volunteers
was being taught the difference between a Krag- Jorgensen and a Moro
Castle. It was all front in them days—for the Regulars! But we were
lucky in our commissary sergeant, a splendid young man named Orr, and
we lived well from the start and never came down to rations. The
battery got quite a name for having griddle-cakes for breakfast and
carrying a lot of dog generally in the eating line, and someone wrote
a song, to the toon of Chickamauga, called "The Fried Chicken of
Battery B." But I tell you, it wasn't all fried chicken either, for
the fighting was heavy and hot, and a good many of the boys pegged
out. If ever there was a battery that looked for trouble and got
it—it was Battery B! But we took good care of our commissary
sergeant—did I mention he was a splendid young man named Orr?—and
though we dropped a good many numbers, wounded, dead, sick, and
missing—we kep' up the good name of the battery and had canned butter
and pop-overs nearly every day.
Benny and I were chums, but nobody knows what that word means till
you've kept warm under the same blanket and kneeled side by side in
the firing-line. It brings men together like nothing else in the
world, and it's queer the unlikely sorts that take to one another. I
was so common and uneddicated that I wonder what Benny ever saw to
like in me, for, as I said, he was a regular Mommer's boy and
splendidly brought up and an electrician. Religious, too, and a church
member! But he was powerful fond of me, and never went into action but
what he'd let off a little prayer to himself that I might come out all
right and go to heaven if bolo-ed. Pity he hadn't taken as much
trouble for himself, for one day while we were lying in a trench, and
firing for all we were worth, I suddenly saw that look in his face
that a soldier gets to know so well.
"Benny, you're shot!" I yelled out, dropping my Krag and all
struck of a heap.
"Shot, nothing!" he answered, and then he keeled over in the dirt
and his legs began to kick.
He took a powerful long time to die, and there was even some talk
of sending him down to the base hospital, the field one being that
full and constantly needed at our heels. But he pleaded with the
doctors and was allowed as a favour to stay on and die where he was
minded—with the battery. I was with him all I could, and I'll never
forget how good that commissary sergeant was, a splendid young man
named Orr, who always had a little pot of chicken broth for Benny and
cornstarch, and what he fancied most of all—a sort of thick dough
cakes we called sinkers. As luck would have it I got into trouble
about this time—a little matter of two silver candle-sticks and a
Virgin's crown—and Benny sent for Captain Howard (it was him that
commanded the battery), and weak as he was, dying, he begged me off,
and the captain swore awful to hide how bad he felt, and struck my
name off the sheet to please him. There was little enough to do in
this line, for it was plain as day where Benny was bound for, and he
knew himself he would never see that little home in Oakland again.
Well, he got worse and worse, and sometimes when I went there he
didn't know me, being out of his head or kind of dopy with the
doctor's stuff, the shadow being over him, as Irish people say. One
night he was that low that I got scared, and I waylaid the contract
surgeon as he came out.
"Doctor," I said, "it's all up with Benny, ain't it?"
"He'll never hear reveille no more," he says.
I got my blanket and lay outside the door, it being against
regulations for any of us to be in the field-hospital after taps. But
the orderly said he'd call me if Benny was to wake up before the end,
and the doctor promised me I might go in. Sure enough, I was called
somewheres along of four o'clock and the orderly led me inside the
tent to Benny's cot. There was no light but a candle in a bottle, and
I held it in my hand and bent over and looked in Benny's face. He was
himself all right, and he put his cold, sweaty hand in mine and
"Do you know me, old man?" I said. "Do you know me?"
"Good-bye, Bill," he said, and then, as I leaned over him, his
voice being that low and faint—he whispered: "Billy, I guess you'll
have to rustle for another chum!"
Them was his last words and he said them with a kind of a smile,
like he was happy and didn't give a damn to live. Then the little
life he had left went out. The orderly looked at his watch, and then
wrote the time on a slate after Benny's regimental number and the
word: "died." This was about all the epitaph he got, though we buried
him properly in the morning and gave him the usual send- off. Then his
effects was auctioned off in front of the captain's tent, a nickel for
this, ten cents for that—a soldier hasn't much at any time, you know,
and on the march less than a little—and five-sixty about covered the
lot. There was quite a rush for the picture of his best girl, but I
bought it in, along with one of his Ma and a one-pound Hotchkiss shell
and the hilt of a Spanish officer's sword; and when I had laid them
away in my haversack and had borrowed a sheet of paper and an envelope
from the commissary sergeant to write to Benny's mother, it came over
me what a little place a man fills in the world and how things go on
much the same without him.
I was setting down to write that letter and was about midway
through, having got to "the pride of the battery and regretted by all
who noo him," when I looked up, and what in thunder do you suppose I
saw? The old lady herself, by God! walking into camp with an umberella
and a valise, and looking like she always did— powerful grim and
commanding. Someone must have told her the news and which was my tent,
for she walked straight up to where I was and said: "William,
William!" like that. She didn't cry or nothing, and anybody at a
distance might have thought she was just talking to a stranger; but
there was a whole funeral march in the sound of her voice, and you
could read Benny's death like print in her wrinkled old face. I took
her out to where we had buried him, and she plumped down on her knees
and prayed, with the umberella and the valise beside her, while I held
my hat in one hand and my pistol in the other, ready for any bolo
business that might come out of the high grass.
Then we went back to the field-hospital and had a look in, she
explaining on the way how she had mortgaged her home, so as to come
and look after Benny. I guess the hospital must have appeared kind of
cheerless, for lots of the wounded were lying on the bare ground, and
it was a caution the way some of them groaned and groaned. You see
Battery K had just come in, having had an engagement by the way at
Dagupan, and Wilson's cavalry, besides, had dumped a sight of their
men on us.
"And it was in a place like this that my boy died?" said the old
lady, her mouth quivering and then closing on the words like a steel
"There's the very cot, Ma'am," I said.
She said something like "Oh, oh, oh!" under her breath, and,
taking out her handkerchief, wiped the face and lips of the man in
the cot, who was lying there with his uniform still on him. I suppose
he had got it because he was a bad case,—the cot, I mean,—and
certainly he was far from spry.
"He's dead!" said the old lady, shuddering. "He's dead!"
"Orderly," I said, "number fifty-six is dead!"
The orderly bent over to make sure and then ran for his slate—the
same old slate—and began to write down the same old thing. I suppose
there was some sense to that slate racket, for with a little spit one
slate would do for a brigade, but it seemed a cheap way to die. Then,
as we stood there, another orderly came gallumphing in with something
steaming in a tin can. The old lady took it out of his hand and
smelled it, supercilious.
"What do you call this?" she said.
"It's chicken broth, Ma'am," he said. "That's what it is, Ma'am."
"Faugh!" said the old lady, "faugh!" and handed it back to him,
like she was going to throw it away, but didn't. Then we watched him
dip it out in tin cups and carry it around, while some other fellers
came in and carried out the body of the man in the cot, a trooper by
his legs. We went out with them, and, I tell you, it was good to stand
in the open air again and breathe. The old lady took a little spell of
rest on a packing-case; then she gave me her umberella and valise to
take back to quarters, and, rolling up her sleeves, made like she was
going into the hospital again.
I didn't know what to say, but I guess I looked it.
"William," she said, with a glitter of her gold specs.
"Ma'am," said I.
"Those boys aren't getting proper CON-sideration," she said. "If
it was dogs," she said, "they couldn't be treated worse. William, I'm
going to see what one old woman can do."
"You ought to ask Captain Howard first," I said. "You don't belong
to the Army Medical Corps."
"It's them that let Benny die," she said, with her eyes snapping,
"and, as for asking, they'd say 'No,' for they don't allow any women
except at the base hospitals."
I knew this for a fack, but I'd rather she'd find it out from the
captain than from me. I didn't want to seem to make trouble for her.
So, while I was wondering what to do about it, she headed right in,
leaving me with the valise and the umberella, and a kind of qualmy
feeling that the old lady might strike a snag.
I didn't have no chance to come back till along sundown, but, my
stars I even in that time there had been a change. Benny's mother had
been getting in her deadly work, and the orderlies were bursting mad,
not that any of them dared say anything outright or show it except in
their faces, which were that long; for, you see, the contract surgeon
had taken her side, and had backed her up. But they moved around like
mules with their ears down, powerful unwilling, and yet scared to say
a word. The hospital had been made a new place, with another tent up
that had been laid away and forgotten (you wouldn't think it possible,
but it was), and the sick and wounded had been sorted over and washed
and made comfortable; and, where before there was no room to turn
around, you could walk through wide lanes and wonder what had become
of the crowd. She had peeked into the cooking, too, and had found out
more things going wrong in five hours than the contract surgeon had
in five months. Blest if there wasn't a court-martial laying for every
one of the orderlies if they said "boo!" for the swine had been making
away scandalous with butter and chocolate and beef—tea and canned
table peaches and sparrow-grass and sardines, and all the like of
that, belly-robbing the boys right and left perfectly awful.
It was a mighty good account of the contract surgeon that he took
it all so well, and was willing to admit how badly he had been done.
But he was a splendid young fellow, named Marcus, and what the old
lady said, went! He was right sorry he couldn't put her on the
strength of the battery, but the regulations kept women nurses at the
base-hospitals, and anyway (for we broke everything them days, and
there wasn't enough red-tape left to play cat-and-my- cradle with)
Captain Howard hated the sight of a petticoat, and was dead set
against women anywheres. I don't know what they had ever done to him,
but I'm just saying it for a fack. But, however it was, Marcus said
the old lady had to be kept out of sight, or else the captain would
surely send her to the rear under arrest.
Now, this made it a pretty hard game for the old lady to play, and
you can reckon how much dodging she had to do to keep out of the
captain's sight. It was hard about her sleeping, too, for she had to
do that where she could, not to speak of the pay she might have drawn
and didn't, and which, sakes alive! she earned twenty times over. By
and by everybody got onto it except the captain, but there wasn't such
a skunk in the battery as to tell him, partly because of the joke,
but, most of all, on account of the convalescents, who naturally
thought a heap of her. Then it got whispered around that she was our
mascot, and carried the luck of the battery; and it was certainly
RE-markable how it began to change, getting fresh beef quite regular
and maple syrup to burn, and nine kegs of Navy pickles by mistake.
You would have thought she was too old to stand it, for we was
always on the move, and I have seen her sleeping on what was nothing
else but mud, with the rain coming down tremenjous. But she was a
tough old customer, and always came to time, outlasting men that could
have tossed her in the air, or run with her a block and never taken
breath. But, of course, it couldn't be kept up for ever—I mean about
the captain—and, sure enough, one day he caught her riding on a
gun-carriage, while he was passing along the line on a Filipino pony.
"Good God!" he said, like that, reining in his horse and looking
at her campaign hat and the old gingham dress she wore. I wonder she
didn't correct him for his profanity, but I allow for once she was
scared stiff, and hadn't no answer ready. My! But she kind of shrunk
in and looked a million years old.
"Madam," said he, "do you belong to this column?"
"Unofficially, I do," she said, perking up a little.
"Might I inquire where you came from?" said he, doing the ironical
"Oakland, California," said she.
"And is this your usual mode of locomotion?" said he. "Riding on a
gun?" said he. "Like the Goddess of War," said he. "Perching on the
belcherous cannon's back," said he.
The old lady, now as bold as brass, allowed that it was.
"Scandalous!" roared the captain. "Scandalous!"
The old lady always had a kind of nattified air, and even on a
gun-carriage she sported that look of dropping in on the neighbours
for a visit. She ran up her little parasol, settled her feet, give a
tilt to her specs, and looked the captain in the eye.
"Yes," she said, "I do belong to this column, and I guess it would
be a smaller column by a dozen, if it hadn't been for me in your
field-hospital. Or twenty," said she. "Or maybe more," said she.
This kind of staggered the captain. It was plain he didn't know
just what to do. We were hundreds of miles from anywheres, and there
were Aguinaldoes all around us. He was as good as married to that old
lady, for any means he had of getting rid of her. He began to look
quite old himself, as he stared and stared at the mascot of Battery B,
the cannon lumping along, and the old lady bouncing up and down, as
the wheels sank to the axles in the rutty road.
"When we strike the railroad, home you go," said he.
"We'll see about that," said the old lady.
"It's disgraceful," said he. "Pigging with a whole battery," said
he. "Oh, the shame of it!" said he.
"Shoulder-straps don't always make a gentleman," said she.
"Holy Smoke!" said he, galloping off very fierce and grand on his
little horse, to haul Dr. Marcus over the coals. They say the
contract surgeon got it in the neck, but we were short-handed in that
department already, Dr. Fenelly having been killed in action, so the
captain could do nothing worse nor reprimand him. It was bad enough as
it was—for Marcus—for HE wasn't no old lady, and the captain could
let himself rip. And, I tell you, it was a caution any time to be up
against Captain Howard, for, though he could be nice as pie and
perlite to beat the band, it only needed the occasion for him to
unloose on you like a thirteen-inch gun.
Well, it was perfectly lovely what happened next, for, with all
her sassiness, the old lady felt pretty blue, and talked about Benny
for hours, like she always did when she was down-hearted; and, by this
time, you know, she had got to love Battery B, and every boy in it;
and it naturally went against her to think of starting out all over
again with strangers, and them maybe Volunteers. So you can guess what
her feelings was that night when the captain went down with fever. It
was like getting money from home!
The captain had never been sick in his life, and he took it hard
to be laid by and keep off the flies, while another feller ran the
battery and jumped his place. I guess it came over him that he wasn't
the main guy after all, and that it wouldn't matter a hill of beans
whether he lived or quit. Them's one of the things you learn in
hospital, and the most are the better for it; but the captain, you
see, was getting his lesson a bit late. So he was layed off, with
amigos to carry him or bolo him (like what amigos are when they get a
chance), and the old lady give a whoop and took him in charge. My! If
she wasn't good to that man. and, as for coals of fire, she regularly
slung them at him! The doctor, too, got his little axe in, and was
everlastingly praising the old lady, and telling the captain he would
have been a goner, if it hadn't been for her! And, when the captain
grew better—which he did after a few days—he was that meek he'd eat
out of your hand. The old lady was not only a champion nurse, but she
was a buster to cook. Give her a ham-bone and a box of matches and she
could turn out a French dinner of five courses, with
oofs-sur-le-plate, and veal-cutlets in paper pants! It was then, I
reckon, she settled the captain for good; and, when he picked up and
was able to walk about camp, leaning pretty heavy on her arm, she
called him "George" and "My boy"—like that—and you might have taken
him for Benny and she his Ma.
There was nothing too good for the old lady after that, and the
captain wouldn't hear of her living anywheres but at the officers'
mess, where she sat at his right hand, and always spoke first. The
Queen of England couldn't have been treated with more respeck, and
the captain put her on the strength of the battery, and she drew
back-pay from the day she first blew into camp. My, but it was
changed times! and you ought to have seen the way the old lady cocked
her head in the air and made a splendid black silk dress of loot,
which she wore every evening with the officers and rattled all over
with jet. But it didn't turn her head the least bit, like for a time
the boys feared it might, and she was twice as good to us as she had
been before. We had a pull at headquarters now, and she had a heart
that big that it could hold the officers and us, too—and more in the
The tide had turned her way when she needed it most, for, tough as
she was, she could not have long gone on like she had been. She had
worn down very thin, and was like a shadow of the old lady I
remembered in Oakland, California, and kind of sunk in around the
eyes, and I don't believe Benny would have known her, had he risen
from the grave; and, when anybody joked with her about it, and said:
"Take it easy, Ma'am, you owe it to the battery to be keerful," she'd
answer she had enlisted for the term of the war, and looked to peg out
the day peace was proclaimed.
"Then I'll be off to join Benny," she'd say, "and the rest of the
battery, in heaven!"
There was getting to be a good deal of a crowd up there—that is,
if the other place hadn't yanked them in—and some of the boys found
a lot of comfort in her way of thinking.
"A boy as dies for his country isn't going to be bothered about
passing in," she would say, with a click of her teeth and that sure
way of hers like she KNEW. And I, reckon perhaps she DID.
One afternoon she was suddenly taken very bad; and, instead of
better, she grew worse and worse, being tied to the bed and raving;
and the captain, who wouldn't hear of her being sent to hospital, give
up his own quarters to her and almost went crazy, he was that
frightened she was dying.
"It's just grit that's kep' her alive," I heard the doctor saying
"You must save her, Marcus," said the captain, holding to him,
like he was pleading with the doctor for her life. "You must save
her, Marcus. You must do everything in the world you can, Marcus."
The contract surgeon looked mighty glum. "She's like a ship that's
been burning up her fittings for lack of coal," said he. "There ain't
nothing left," he said. "Not a damn thing," said he, and then he piled
in a lot of medical words that seemed to settle the matter.
As for the captain, he sat down and regularly cried. I'm sorry now
I said anything against the captain, for he was a splendid man, and
the pride of the battery. And, I tell you, he wasn't the only one that
cried neither, for the boys idolised the old lady, and there wasn't no
singing that night or cards or anything. I was on picket, and it was a
heavy heart I took with me into the dark; and, when they left me
laying in the grass, and nobody nearer nor a hundred yards and that
behind me, I felt mortal blue and lonesome and homesick, and like I
didn't care whether I was killed or not. It was midnight when I went
out,—mind, I say MIDNIGHT— and I don't know what ailed me that
night, for, after thinking of the old lady and Benny and my own mother
that was dead, and all the rest of the boys that had marched out so
fine and ended so miserable—I couldn't keep the sleep away; and I'd
go off and off, though I tried my damnedest not to; and my eyes would
shut in spite of me and just glue together; and I would kind of drown,
drown, drown in sleep. If ever a man knew what he was doing, and the
risk, and what I owed to the boys, and me a Regular, and all that—it
was ME; yet—yet—And you must remember it had been a hard day, and
the guns had stuck again and again in the mud, and it was pull, mule,
pull, soldier, till you thought you'd drop in your tracks. Oh, I am
not excusing myself! I've seen men shot for sleeping on guard, and I
know it's right; and, even in my dreams, I seemed to be reproaching
myself and calling myself a stinker.
Then, just as I was no better nor a log, laying there with my head
on my arm, a coward and a traitor, and a black disgrace to the
uniform I wore, I suddenly waked up with somebody shaking me hard,
real rough, like that—and I jumped perfectly terrible to think it
might be the captain on his rounds. Oh, the relief when I saw it was
nothing else than the old lady, she kneeling beside me all alone, and
her specs shining in the starlight.
"William, William!" she said, sorrowful and warning, her voice
kind of strange, like she didn't want to say out loud that I had been
asleep at my post; and, as she drew away her hand, it touched mine,
and it was ice-cold. And, just as I was going to tell her to lope back
and be keerful of herself, the grass rustled in front of me, and I
saw, rising like a wall, rows on rows of Filipino heads! My, but
didn't I shoot and didn't I run, and the bugles rang out and the whole
line was rushed, me pelting in and the column spitting fire along a
length of three miles! We stood them off all right, and my name was
mentioned in orders, and I was promoted sergeant, the brigadier
shaking my hand and telling the boys I was a pattern to go by and
everything a Regular ought to be. But it wasn't THAT I was going to
tell. It was about the old lady, though I didn't learn it till the
She had died at a quarter of midnight, and had lain all night on
the captain's bed with a towel over her poor old face.
Now, what do you make of that?