The Anting-anting Of Captain Von Tollig
Source: Anting-anting Stories
There had been a battle between the American forces and the Tagalogs,
and the natives had been driven back. The stone church of Santa Maria,
around which the engagement had been hottest, and far beyond which
the native lines had now been driven, had been turned into a hospital
for the wounded Tagalogs left by their comrades on the field. Beneath
a broad thatched shed behind the church lay the bodies of the dead,
stiff and still under the coverings of cocoanut-fibre cloth thrown
hastily over them. The light of a full tropic moon threw the shadow
of the roof over them like a soft, brown velvet pall. They were to
be buried between day-break and sunrise, that the men who buried them
might escape the heat of the day.
The American picket lines had been posted a quarter of a mile beyond
the church, near which no other guards had been placed. Not long after
midnight a surgeon, one of the two men left on duty in the church,
happened to look out through a broken window towards the shed, and
in the shadow, against the open moonlight-flooded field beyond,
saw something moving. Looking close he could make out the slim,
brown figure of a native passing swiftly from one covered form to
another, and turning back the cocoanut-fibre cloth to look at each
dead man's face.
Calling the man who was working with him the surgeon pointed out the
man beneath the shed to him. "That fellow has no business there," he
said, "He has slipped through the lines in some way. He may be a spy,
but even if he is not, he is here for no good. We must capture him."
"All right," was the answer. "You go around the church one way,
and I will come the other."
When the surgeon, outside the hospital, reached a place where he could
see the shed again, the Tagalog had ceased his search. He had found
the body he was looking for, and sunk down on his knees beside it was
searching for something in the clothing which covered the dead man's
breast. A moment later he had seen the men stealing towards him from
the church, had cleared the open space beneath the shed at a leap,
and was off in the moonlight, running towards the outposts. The
surgeons swore; and one fired a shot after him from his revolver.
"Might as well shoot at the shadow of that palm tree," the one who had
shot said. "Anyway it will wake up the pickets, and they may catch him.
"What do you suppose he was after?" he added.
"Don't know," said his companion. "You wait, and I'll get a lantern
and we will see."
The lantern's light showed the clothing parted over a dead man's body,
and the fragment of a leather thong which had gone about his neck,
with broken ends. Whatever had been fastened to the thong was gone,
carried away by the Tagalog when he had fled.
The next morning a prisoner was brought to headquarters. "The picket
who caught him, sir," the officer who brought the prisoner reported,
"said he heard a shot near the church where the wounded natives are;
and then this man came running from that way."
The surgeons who had been on night duty at the hospital were sent for,
and their story heard.
"Search the man," said the officer in command.
The native submitted to the ordeal in sullen silence, and made no
protest, when, from some place within his clothing, there was taken a
small, dirty leather bag from which two broken ends of leather thong
still hung. Only his eyes followed the officer's hands wolfishly,
as they untied the string which fastened the bag, and took from it a
little leather-bound book not more than two inches square. The officer
looked at the book curiously. It was very thin, and upon the tiny
pages, yellow with age, there was writing, still legible, although
the years which had stained the paper yellow had faded the ink. He
spelled out a few words, but they were in a language which he did not
know. "Take the man to the prison," he said. "I will keep the book."
Later in the day the officer called an orderly. "Send Lieutenant
Smith to me," he said.
By one of the odd chances of a war where, like that in the Philippines,
the forces at first must be hastily raised, Captain Von Tollig and the
subordinate officer for whom he had sent, had been citizens of the same
town. The captain had been a business man, shrewd and keen,--too keen
some of his neighbors sometimes said of him. Lieutenant Smith was a
college man, a law student. It had been said of them in their native
town that both had paid court to the same young woman, and that the
younger man had won in the race. If this were so, there had been no
evidence on the part of either in the service to show that they were
conscious of the fact. There had been little communication between
them, it is true, but when there had been the subordinate officer
never overlooked the deference due his superior.
"I wish you would take this book," said Captain Von Tollig, after
he had told briefly how the volume happened to be in his possession,
"and see if you can translate it. I suspect it must be something of
value, from the risk this man took to get it; possibly dispatches from
one native leader to another, the nature of which we ought to know."
The young man took the queer little book and turned the pages
curiously. "I hardly think what is written here can be dispatches,"
he said, "The paper and the ink both look too old for that. The
words seem to be Latin; bad Latin, too, I should say. I think it is
what the natives call an 'anting-anting;' that is a charm of some
kind. Evidently this one did not save the life of the man who wore
it. Probably it is a very famous talisman, else they would not have
run such a risk to try to get it back."
"Can you read it?"
"Not off hand. With your permission I will take it to my tent, and
I think I can study it out there."
"Do so. When you make English of it I'd like to know what it says. I
am getting interested in it"
The lieutenant bowed, and went away.
"Bring that prisoner to me," the captain ordered, later in the day.
"Do you want to go free?" he asked, when the Tagalog had been brought.
"If the Senor wills."
"What is that book?"
The man made no answer.
"Tell me what the book is, and why you wanted it; and you may go home."
"Will the Senor give me back the book to carry home with me?"
"I don't know. I'll see later about that."
"It was an 'anting-anting.' The strongest we ever knew. The man who
had it was a chief. When he was dead I wanted it."
"If this was such a powerful charm why was the man killed who had it
on. Why didn't it save him?"
The Tagalog was silent.
"Come. Tell me that, and you may go."
"And have the book?"
"Yes; and have the book."
"It is a very great 'anting-anting.' It never fails in its time. The
man who made it, a famous wise man, very many years ago, watched
one whole month for the secrets which the stars told him to write in
it; but the last night, the night of the full moon, he fell asleep,
and on that one day and night of the month the 'anting-anting' has
no good in it for the man who wears it. Else the chief would not be
dead. You made the attack, that day. Our people never would."
"Lieutenant Smith to see you, sir," an orderly announced.
"All right. Send him in; and take this fellow outside."
"But, Senor," the man's eyes plead for him as loudly as his words;
"the 'anting-anting.' You said I could have it and go."
"Yes, I know. Go out and wait."
"What do you report, Lieutenant? Can you read it?"
"Yes. This is very singular. There is no doubt but the book is now
nothing but a charm."
"Yes. I found that out."
"But I feel sure it was originally something more than that. Something
"It purports to be the record of the doings of a man who seems to have
died here many years ago, written by himself. It tells a strange story,
which, if true, may be of great importance now. To make sure the record
would be kept the writer made the natives believe it was a charm, while
its being written in Latin kept the nature of its message from them."
"Have you read it?"
"Most of it. Sometimes a word is gone--faded out;--and a few words I
cannot translate;--I don't remember all my Latin. I have written out
a translation as nearly as I can make it out." He handed a paper to
the captain, who read:
"I, Christopher Lunez, am about to die. Once I had not thought that
this would be my end,--a tropic island, with only savages about me. I
had thought of something very different, since I got the gold. Perhaps,
after all, there is a curse on treasure got as that was. If there
is, and the sin is to be expiated in another world, I shall know it
soon. I did not--"
Here there was a break, and the story went on.
"---- all the others are dead, and the wreck of our ship has broken
to bits and has disappeared. Before the ruin was complete, though,
I had brought the gold on shore and buried it. No one saw me. The
natives ran from us at first, far into the forest, and ----"
The words which would have finished the sentence were wanting.
"Where three islands lie out at sea in a line with a promontory like
a buffalo's head, I sunk the gold deep in the sands, at the foot of
the cliff, and dug a rude cross in the rock above it. Some day I hope
a white man guided by this, will find the treasure and--"
"There was no more," said the lieutenant, when the captain, coming
to this sudden end looked up at him. "The last few pages of the book
are gone, torn out, or worn loose and lost. What I have translated
was scattered over many pages, with disconnected signs and characters
written in between. The book was evidently intended to be looked upon
as a mystic talisman, probably that the natives on this account might
be sure to take good care of it.
"All of the Tagalogs who can procure them, carry these
'anting-anting.' Some are thought to be much more powerful than
others. Evidently this was looked upon as an unusually valuable
charm. Sometimes they are only a button, sewed up in a rag. One of
the prisoners we took not long ago wore a broad piece of cloth over
his breast, on which was stained a picture of a man killing another
with a 'barong.' He believed that while he wore it no one could kill
him with that weapon; and thought the only reason he was not killed
in the skirmish in which he was captured was because he had the
"Do you believe the story which the book tells is true?" the captain
"I don't know. Some days I think I could believe anything about
"Have you shown the book to any one else, or told any one what you
make out of it?"
"Do not do so, then. That is all, now. I will keep the book," he added,
putting the little brown volume inside his coat.
Several days later the officer in charge of the quarters where the
native prisoners were confined reported to the captain: "One of the
prisoners keeps begging to be allowed to see you, sir," he said. "He
says you told him he might go free. Shall I let him be brought
"Yes. Send him up."
"Well?" said Captain Von Tollig, when the man appeared at headquarters,
and the orderly who had brought him had retired.
"The little book, Senor. You said I could have it back, and go."
"Yes. You may go. I will have you sent safely through our lines;
but the book I have decided to keep."
The man's face grew ash-colored with disappointment or anger. "But,
Senor," he protested. "You told me ----"
"I know; but I have changed my mind. You can go, if you wish, without
the book, or not, just as you choose."
"Then I will stay," the Tagalog said slowly, adding a moment later,
"My people will surely slay me if I go back to them without the book."
"Very well." The captain called for the guard, and the man was taken
back to prison; but later in the day an order was sent that he be
released from confinement and put to work with some other captured
natives about the camp.
During the next two or three weeks a stranger to Tagalog methods
of warfare might very reasonably have thought the war was ended,
so far as this island, at least, was concerned. The natives seemed
to have disappeared mysteriously. Even the men who had been longest
in the service were puzzled to account for the sudden ceasing of
the constant skirmishing which had been the rule before. The picket
lines were carried forward and the location of the camp followed,
from time to time, as scouting parties returned to report the country
clear of foes. The advance would have been even more rapid, except
for the necessity of keeping communication open at the rear with the
harbour where two American gunboats lay at anchor.
As a result of one of the advances the camp was pitched one night
upon a broad plateau looking out upon the sea. Inland the ground
rose to the thickly forest-clad slope of a mountain, to which the
American officers felt sure the Tagalogs had finally retreated. Early
in the evening, when the heat of the day had passed, a group of these
officers were standing with Captain Von Tollig in the center of the
camp, examining the mountain slope with their glasses.
"What did you say was the name of this place?" one of the officers
asked a native deserter who had joined the American forces, and at
times had served as a guide to the expedition.
"That is Mt. Togonda," he answered, pointing to the hills before them,
"and this," swinging his hand around the plateau on which the camp's
tents were pitched, "is La Plaza del Carabaos."
The captain's eyes met those of Lieutenant Smith.
"La Plaza del Carabaos" means "The Square of the Water Buffalos."
As if with one thought the two men turned and looked out to sea. The
sun had set. Against the glowing western sky a huge rock at the
plateau's farthest limit was outlined. Rough-carved as the rock had
been by the chisel of nature, the likeness to a water buffalo's head
was striking. Beyond the rock three islands lay in a line upon the
sunset-lighted water. Far out from the foot of the cliff the two men
could hear the waves beating upon the sand.
"This is an excellent place for a camp," the captain said when he
turned to his men again. "I think we shall find it best to stay here
for some time."
Perhaps a month of respite from attack had made the sentries careless;
perhaps it was only that the Tagalogs had spent the time in gathering
strength. No one can ever know just how that wicked slaughter of our
soldiers in the campaign on that island did come about.
The Tagalogs swept down into the camp that night as a hurricane might
have blown the leaves of the mountain trees across the plateau; and
then were gone again, leaving death, and wounds worse than death,
When our men had rallied, and had come back across the battle-ground,
they found among the others, the captain lying dead outside his
tent. A Tagalog dagger lay beside the body, and the uniform had been
torn apart until the officer's bare breast showed.
The first full moon of the month shone down upon the dead man's white,
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