The Little Brown Man
Updated: Jan 1, 2022
By Frank N. Stratton
The Nickell Magazine, November 1903.
Come on, Jack, let the kid go.”
“No, indeed. The little fella came near winging me with that last poisoned arrow. And I want Kate to see an Igorot, fresh from his native jungle.”
“Come along. I’ll not hurt you.”
Far up on the mountain side, with wounded arm and broken bow, lay the little brown man. He heeded not the pain, felt not the awful heat of that mid-day sun; he only saw, with tiger eyes, his motherless boy, his little Juan, borne away by those two blue-shirted giants toward the troopers gathering in the valley. The heart of the father raged within him. But, what could one little brown man, wounded, unarmed, do against so many? Had not he and his comrades just been scattered, chased up the valley, shot down by these terrible Americanos?
Ah, this was quite different sport from potting Spaniards, this ambuscading of Americano warriors.
And now little Juan was gone forever. But what a brave fight he had made, his little arrows all sped, before he turned to flee. No doubt he would be eaten tonight by these ferocious strangers. But there remained revenge. Another bow can be found, the trail is plain, and the Igorot swift. Never mind the wounded arm. Bind it with healing herbs. There is work to be done.
Will they never halt, those troopers, that they may be overtaken? Up mountain, walk; down mountain, trot; over plain, gallop; they are made of iron. The little captive, bound behind the big captain, notes with keen, quick eyes every landmark, rock and river, mountain and plain. Ah, my troopers, young though he be he is the finished product of generations of past masters in woodcraft, and though you carry him to the farthest confines of Luzon, let him once escape and he will regain home and kindred as surely and unerringly as the gigantic eagle of the Philippines that soars above you.
And far back on your trail comes the little brown man, never halting, never swerving, day after day, night after night, as unrelenting as the Apache of your native land. Woe unto that good captain of yours, woe unto his waiting wife, if that little brown man with the long bow and deadly arrows ever comes within bow shot.
Hot now the trail enters a country new to the Igorot. Many villages and many people, rice fields and dykes, caribou drawing squeaking carts; now and then groups of blue shirted soldiers with those wonderful, murderous guns. Caution, little brown man. These people, too, are brown, but their tongues are strange and they joke and laugh with the Americanos. You must change your dress. That is easily done. Darkness, a crouch, a spring, a quick thrust; that is all, and the river is very swift and deep. The silver in the pockets will not come amiss in this strange land. Filipino gallants should not wander so far from the village alone after night and in time of war, even though it be to woo Filipino maidens. And you must cast away your weapons, all but the long, keen knife. You must learn a few words of this strange language, and you must avoid company and must speak but seldom.
The trail is lost now among so many, but it seems that all these white soldiers are sent from a village called Manila, and that a troop with a big, red-bearded captain and a little Igorot boy have passed along on their way to that village. Onward, then, to Manila! Juan is yet alive. Perhaps they are saving him for a grand feast in Manila. Manila!—the word is difficult for your Igorot tongue, but by its use and inquiring gestures you may learn the direction from an occasional traveler.
Onward, onward, miles and miles.
And then, at last, in the early morning, as he leaves a rice swamp and cautiously ascends a small bank to look about, the little brown man starts with surprise.
Away yonder, water, all dancing water and blue sky. Over there, a village, a wonderful, mighty village, such as his mind could never conceive of. The sun shines brightly on many spires, the bugle calls come faintly to his ears, monstrous canoes glide grandly over white crested waves, some with great white wings, some belching fire and smoke. Manila—at last!
Americano captain, you of the red beard, strolling carelessly homeward, you hear the bands playing upon the Luneta, the laughter of merry promenaders, the babel of many tongues. You see the brilliant lights of street and shop flashing upon many faces, fair and swarthy, upon gay costumes of charming women mingled with the khaki and the blue of army and navy. But you cannot hear the cat-like footsteps of the little brown man, you do not see the glitter of his eyes as he follows you through the crowded streets, halting as you halt, moving as you move, even to the entrance of your dwelling.
There is safety in the peopled streets, my Captain, there is security within the barred doors of your home, but beware the evening stroll in the shadowy shrubbery of the garden, for a little brown figure crouches there, keen eyed as the eagle, crafty as the fox, agile as the tiger, and his knife bears the venom of the serpent.
Ah, little brown man, well may you gasp in surprise, well may your father-heart leap for joy. There, only a few yards away, where the moonlight sifts through the tropical foliage, hand in hand with the red-bearded one and his good wife, comes little Juan, alive, well, smiling, trying to repeat the words of the hated Americanos, who laugh merrily at the efforts of their pupil.
And you, little Juan, why do you break from them and bound forward, crouching, listening, panting? Again it comes, that low, weird cry, mingled with the strains of the distant music on the esplanade. To the ears of the Captain and his wife ’tis but the cry of some strange night-bird, but to you it is the wood-call of the Igorot hunter. Many times in far-away forests have you and your little brown father traced each other by that tremulous signal. Warrior of the Igorot, your weary, faithful quest is ended, for it is truly your child who bounds toward you, calling, with extended arms. Leap from the shadows and clasp him to your breast, while the Americanos gaze in wonder.
A strange tale this, that Juan tells. They have treated him like a little prince. They have taken him into their home, have clothed, feasted, petted him. He goes with them everywhere, sees and hears everything, the wonderful houses, the mighty canoes, the marvelous weapons, the thousands of invincible warriors of these powerful people from over the great water.
He is pleased, delighted, charmed with this fairyland.
But his heart is with you and the forest home, little brown father, and he will return—yes—but not now. A little time yet in this enchanted realm filled with life and light and miracles and music—then he will come. Will you not stay here with him, with these good people whom it is folly to fight, who wish peace, who will be your friends?
You listen, you hesitate—but you are not a child. A warrior of the Igorot must breathe the air of his mountains, the odors of his forests, must hear the death wail of his enemy, the night cries of the prowling beasts. Yet, to please you, Juan, he will rest a little, will even accept a little food, will thank, gratefully, by signs and broken words, the Captain and his wife for their kindness to the little one.
And then, as a signal gun startles him with its mighty voice, he vanishes like a shadow in the night, calling back to Juan, in their native tongue, to come soon.
Two hundred picked fighting men, armed with deadly Mausers, lie concealed on either side of the mountainous ravine. Four hundred pairs of glittering eyes watch exultantly for the appearance of the little band of troopers led by the treacherous guide. How should they know, those gallant forayers, that the farther end of the winding pass is closed by an impassable barrier; that one detachment of the hidden foe will bar their retreat when they have passed, while the others pour down a murderous flanking fire from both sides? Do but ride well into that cunning trap, my blue shirted ones, and your eyes will never again behold Old Glory, your ears will forever be deaf to the call of the bugles.
The little brown man carefully shifts his position, that he may sooner scan the oncoming enemy. He cannot see them yet from where he lies, but he hears the clatter of hoofs, the jingle of accoutrements, the laughter of the troopers. Suddenly the little column swings into view around the base of the mountain. The little brown man starts to his feet. His gun clatters among the rocks. He does not hear the angry, low-toned caution of his officer. But he sees a great red-bearded Captain and a little brown faced boy riding at the head of that column to certain death.
With a cry of warning he leaps forward and is half way down the side of the steep ravine before his comrades divine his intention. Then the Mausers ring out and the little brown man pitches forward and rolls to the very feet of the red-bearded Captain, who, with a soldier’s quick instinct, has already given the command to dismount and deploy.
Saved!—but the film of death is over the eyes of the Igorot. He has only time to place the little hand of Juan within the great palm of the Captain, to see their signs of understanding and assent. Then, with the sounds of battle in his ears, his shattered head on Juan’s breast, the little brown man closes his eyes forever.