With the taking of Santa Cruz, the Americans marched through all the streets and by-ways, looking for lurking rebels and hidden arms, and in this search a squad of infantry came upon Luke Striker, who had propped himself up on the sacking in the warehouse and was making himself as comfortable as possible.
"Hullo, sailor," cried the sergeant in charge of the squad. "Where did you come from?"
Luke's story was quickly told, and he begged the soldier to look for Larry, fearing that serious harm had befallen the lad. At once two soldiers were detailed to care for the old Yankee, while the rest went on a hunt which lasted far into the night.
As we know, nothing was seen of Larry; but from a wounded and dying Filipino, the soldiers learned that the boy had been taken a prisoner, and must now be many miles away from the city. News of this reached Luke while he was in the temporary hospital opened up after the first fight, and the information made the old fellow feel as bad as did his wound.
"If they've captured him, he's a goner, I'm afraid," he said to Jack Biddle, who had come in to help look after his messmate. "Poor Larry! What will his brother Ben say, when he hears of it?"
"Better not tell him right away," suggested Biddle. "Give him a chance to get strong fust. Besides, Larry may give 'em the slip. He's putty cute, ye know."
The news soon spread that Larry and several others were missing, and a description of the absent ones was given out. The next day one of the missing soldiers was found dead in the jungle, but nothing was learned of the others.
"It serves the young sailor right," growled Lieutenant Horitz. "He knew too much for his own good." He had not forgotten the disaster on the river, and secretly he wished Larry all manner of ill-luck. During the rush through the woods the Lieutenant had tumbled and struck his nose on a stone. That member was much swollen and cut in consequence, and this put him in a worse humor than ever before.
By the time the expedition was to return to Manila, Luke was able to walk around again, and he was put on one of the larger boats and Jack Biddle was detailed to look after him. The return to Manila was made without special incident, and two days later found Luke on board the Olympia among all his old friends.
But the Yankee tar was thoroughly out of sorts. "I wouldn't care for the wound at all, if only I knew Larry was safe," he was wont to say a dozen times a day. Barrow, Castleton, and all the boy's old friends were likewise troubled because of his strange disappearance.
It was Jack Biddle who got shore leave and travelled up to Malolos to break the news to Ben. He found the acting captain of Company D just preparing to take his place in the command once more.
"I'm glad to see you lookin' well, leftenant," he said, after shaking hands warmly. "Ye look almost as healthy as ye did on the voyage from Brooklyn to Manila."
"And I feel almost as well," replied Ben. "The rest has done me a world of good. But what brought you up, Jack? Did Larry come with you?"
"No, Larry didn't come," stammered the old tar, and looked down at the floor. "Fact is, leftenant, Larry—he—he couldn't come."
"Couldn't come? Why, what's the matter?" cried Ben, quickly. "Is he sick?"
"I reckon not—leas'wise, I don't know. Fact is, leftenant, none on us know. Ye see, he went upon thet Santa Cruz expedition—"
"Yes, yes, I know that. And what of it? Was he—was he—" Ben could not utter the words which came to his mind.
"No, he wasn't shot, thet is, so far as we know. But he's—well, he's missin', an' we can't find hide nor hair o' him anywhere. I might ez well tell ye fust ez last, though it cuts my heart to do it, leftenant." And Jack Biddle shook his head dubiously.
It was a great shock to Ben, yet he stood it better than the old tar had expected. He asked immediately for details, and though he drank in every word his manner showed that his thoughts were far away.
"I wish I had been along," he said bitterly. "If he wasn't killed, the Filipinos must have carried him off a pretty good distance. I wonder if General Lawton tried to find out anything under a flag of truce."
"Everything that could be done was done—I have Captain Gaston's word on that," answered Jack Biddle. Captain Gaston and Ben were well known to each other.
Ben sank down on a bench, and for several minutes said not a word, but the tears stood in his eyes, tears which he hastily dried that nobody might see them. Then Gilbert Pennington came in, to tell him that the regiment was ordered to move within the hour.
"It's too bad!" declared the young Southerner. "But brace up, Ben, 'While there is life there is hope,' and it's a pretty sure thing that he wasn't killed." And with this ray of comfort Ben had to be content.
During the days that General Lawton had been in the vicinity of the Laguna de Bay, the regiment to which Ben and Gilbert belonged had not been idle. With a number of other troops they started for the town of Santa Maria, where they came upon the enemy and dislodged them with shells. The town, already in flames, was allowed to burn, and the Americans pursued the rebels quite a distance into the mountains, but failed to catch them.
In the meantime the camp of the Third Artillery, situated some distance to the west of Malolos, was attacked. A fierce engagement in the swamps took place, and in the end the rebels were driven northward and began then to concentrate at Tarlac, which soon became one of their new capitals—they shifting the seat of government as often as it suited their convenience.
It was now felt by General Otis and others in command that no time should be lost in an endeavor to round up the insurgents to the north of Malolos, who were the main support of the rebellion, although scattering bands were still operating to the south and southeast. The rainy season was but a few weeks off, and once this set in military operations would be much retarded, if not stopped altogether, for, taken as a whole, the roads throughout the Island of Luzon are bad, and heavy rains render them well-nigh impassable.
In order to make the campaign against the rebels as effective as possible, General Otis decided to send out two columns, one under General MacArthur to strike out for Calumpit, and the second, under General Lawton, to take a route to the eastward, along the base of the hills leading to San Isidro. By this it was hoped, if the rebels at Calumpit were defeated and tried to take to the mountains, they would fall directly into Lawton's hands, and not only have to surrender but also give up all their war supplies.
It was in the furtherance of this plan that General Lawton left Manila with his brigade and struck out for Novaliches which was gained after a small skirmish at Tuliahan River. From here the column moved to Norzagaray to await reenforcements which were coming in from Malolos and vicinity. To these reenforcements belonged the command to which Ben and Gilbert were attached.
It had begun to rain, and those who understood tropical weather predicted that the wet season was at hand. Yet it was very hot, and the water which fell arose in clouds of steam on the road, rendering marching anything but comfortable.
"Sure, an' it makes a man feel as if he was takin' a stame bath, so it does," remarked Dan Casey, as he swung along on the route step. "I don't know as I iver see it rain hot wather before, bedad," he added, as he wiped the perspiration from his sadly freckled face.
During the day's march, which was trying to everybody, Ben was silent, wondering what had become of Larry and if he would ever again see his younger brother. When the command went into camp under the shelter of a grove of tall trees, both Gilbert and Major Morris visited his tent to comfort him.
"He is not the only one who is missing," remarked the major of the first battalion. "So far I understand the warships have lost about a dozen men who went ashore and failed to return. And you know there are six men missing from our own regiment."
"That is true, major," was the acting captain's answer. "But it's only when it's a close relative that the blow really comes home to one, you know."
"I suppose that is true, captain. But don't be disheartened. It may be that your brother is already back at Manila."
"I can't see what the rebels would do with him as a prisoner," said Gilbert. "They have to move around so lively that I can't see what they want with prisoners anyway."
And so the talk ran on until it came time to retire. That night Ben slept but little, and it was not the rain or the aching of his wound that kept him awake either. He was bound to think of Larry constantly until something was heard of the missing lad.
THE TAKING OF ANGAT
"We are out for a fight to-day."
It was Sergeant Gilmore who spoke, and he addressed Ben. The sergeant was still acting as first lieutenant of Company D, and it looked as if he might hold the position permanently. As for Ben, it was settled that he would be appointed permanent captain of the command as soon as the necessary papers could be made out.
The regiment had joined General Lawton's command and was now in the vicinity of Angat, a pretty town, full of quaint buildings, and a place which, as yet, the rebellion had scarcely touched. But the insurgents had been developed in force by the sharpshooters in front, and now a constant rattle of musketry was heard, which made Ben's blood tingle as of old, when the cry had been, "On to Santiago!" and "On to Malolos!"
"Yes, you are right, Gilmore," answered the young captain. "And I am not sorry. It will help us to forget the rain and our other discomforts." Ben did not say it would help him to forget about Larry, but that is what he meant.
The regiment was soon advancing on the double-quick. It was spread out in skirmish order, and the route lay over what had once been a rice-field, but which was but little more than a sheet of dirty water four to eight inches deep. Here and there were holes, and into these some of the soldiers would sometimes step, thus getting an involuntary bath, much to their disgust.
"It ain't all a picnic," remarked one of the unfortunates, as he leaped up out of a hole and shook himself like a big dog. "Folks at home as just read the newspaper accounts of the war don't know anything of what us fellows have to put up with. All they think we do is to rush forward, kill the enemy, and cover ourselves with glory. I'll wager some of 'em would put on a mighty sour face if they had to tramp ten or twenty miles in the mud and wet, carry a gun and other luggage, and hardly knowing when the next meal was going to turn up and what it was going to amount to."
"Oh, you've got 'em bad, Bradner!" shouted a comrade. "Here, light my pipe and take a smoke. It will dry off your nose if nothing else." And Bradner took the pipe and was thankful that tobacco, at least, was still forthcoming.
Half an hour later Ben received orders to take his company up to the firing line, and away went the command on the double-quick, with the young captain at the head. The rain had let up a bit, and the rebels could be seen making a stand behind a grove of half-wild plantains, where were located a score of nipa huts.
"Run them out, boys!" shouted Ben, as they drew closer. "If we go at them with a rush we'll soon have them on the run!" And on swept the company, with orders to fire at will. Soon there was a constant cracking of rifles, and Ben and the other officers joined in with their pistols. The insurgents fired in return, and one man of the company fell back, hit in the arm.
Just before the grove was gained there was a brook to cross. This was much swollen, and here a number of the soldiers came to a halt, fearing that fording was out of the question.
"Don't stop!" came in a loud cry from Major Morris. "You can leap the stream easily enough. Come, I'm going!" And over he went with a bound, and a score of soldiers followed. A raking fire came from the nipa huts, but now the rebels were seen to be fleeing. The Americans answered the fire with volley after volley from their own guns, and the huts were surrounded as quickly as possible.
"Captain Russell, you will take the trail to the left," said an orderly, dashing up. "Major Morris will rejoin you at the fork in the road."
"The trail to the left," repeated Ben, and turned to his company. "Forward, boys,—left oblique!" he shouted, and on they went again, past the nipa huts and down a trail leading along the edge of a rich plantation. Several more huts were passed, but the inmates were nothing but women and children, and offered no resistance. Then at a distance could be seen a stone wall, as if the insurgents had endeavored to construct a rude fortification in a great hurry.
The company was going at the stone wall pell-mell when Ben called a sudden halt. "To the right, boys, and come at the end of the wall," were his orders, and the command swept around as desired.
Bang! The report was hardly expected, and with it half a dozen of the stones composing the rude fortification gave way, disclosing a cannon made of a bored-out tree-trunk, wound round and round with telegraph wire stolen from the lines along the railroad. This wooden cannon had been heavily charged with cartridges, old nails, and bits of iron, and the first discharge rent the mouth into a dozen pieces.
"That was a narrow shave!" cried Gilmore, as he and Ben looked around, to find all the company unharmed. "Who ever supposed the rascals would put up such a job as that on us?"
"They'll do anything," replied the young captain. "But that isn't a new idea. Wooden cannons were used in the Civil War, so I've been told."
With the discharge of the wooden gun, the rebels concealed behind the stone fortification had fled. The Americans now made after them, more "hot-footed" than ever, and the incessant crack of firearms was followed by many a groan and yell of pain as over a dozen Filipinos went down, three to their death.
At the fork mentioned by Major Morris, Ben brought his company to a halt. All were panting for breath, for the brush at close quarters had put them on their mettle. The rest of the battalion soon came up, and the other battalions followed, from another road, and then the regiment, with the other troops, pushed on into Angat.
Much to the astonishment of all, the beautiful town, with its century-old churches and quaint government buildings, was found practically deserted. The only inhabitants left were a few women and a handful of aged men, all of whom said they would do anything for the Americanos if they were spared their lives. These frightened people were soon put at ease, and then an inspection of the captured place was instituted.
In various places, such as the vaults of convents and government buildings, huge quantities of pilai, that is, unhulled rice, were found. Some of the rice was confiscated for army use, and a large quantity was distributed to the natives who gradually drifted in, saying they wanted to be friendly, and that they were starving.
"It may be that the rice we give away may go to the rebels," said the general in command. "But we can't let these poor wretches starve, war or no war;" and so the bags were given out until very little remained.
It was not General Lawton's intention to quarter at Angat for any length of time, and, having entered the town in the morning, he left it in the afternoon, to begin an advance up the river the next day, striking San Rafael on the right bank and Muronco on the left bank.
"Somebody has set Angat on fire!" exclaimed Ben, as the regiment marched away. A thick column of smoke had suddenly risen from the upper end of the town.
"I don't believe it was our men," answered Major Morris, who walked beside the young captain. "They had strict orders not to loot or burn."
The flames speedily increased, as one nipa hut after another caught, and the warehouses added to the blaze. The Americans always thought the rebels started this conflagration, while the insurgents laid the crime at our door. However it was, Angat burned fiercely, and by nightfall little remained of its many picturesque buildings.
The weather was beginning to tell upon the troops, and out of Ben's regiment fully forty men were on the sick list, with either colds or tropical fever, and these had to be sent back to a sick camp. The balance of the command, it was decided, should join the troops that were to attack San Rafael.
As before, the sharpshooters were in front, while the infantry were escorted by Scott's battery, who, as soon as the enemy's firing line was located, began to pour in a hot fire of shrapnel, much to the latter's discomfiture. Then Ben's regiment went into action once more, the young captain's company on the edge of some heavy brush.
The sharp clip, clip of Mauser bullets made unpleasant music as the soldier boys rushed through the thickets, to surprise not a few Filipinos who were in hiding, and who imagined that the Americans would pass them by unnoticed. Once Ben came upon a man lying on his face in a mass of tall grass, every part of his body concealed but his back.
"Can he be dead?" thought the young captain, when of a sudden the native leaped up like lightning and darted behind the nearest bushes before anybody could stop him. Half a dozen soldiers fired on him, and he fired in return, but none of the shots took effect; and Ben could not but think that the poor creature had earned his escape. "For ten chances to one he doesn't know what he is fighting about," he said to Gilmore.
"Right you are," answered the lieutenant. "I believe if we could corral the whole crowd and explain the true situation to them, they would throw down their arms without hesitation. It is only the leaders who are keeping this rebellion alive."
Over near the battery just mentioned stood General Lawton, tall and erect, directing every movement, without a single thought of personal danger. Many a shot was directed at him, but he seemed to bear a charmed life.
"San Rafael will soon be ours," said one of the officers of the staff. "See, the enemy are retreating!" he cried enthusiastically.
At that moment an orderly dashed up, carrying an order from General Otis. The order read that the column must rest at Angat until supplies could be forwarded from Malolos. A shadow fell over the commando's face. Another victory was at hand—but orders were orders, and must be obeyed. Slowly the retreat was sounded, and the insurgents were left in possession of the field. They thought the Americans were being forced back on account of a heavy loss, and went almost wild with delight, proclaiming the encounter a great victory for the Filipino cause.
THE CROSSING OF THE RIO GRANDE RIVER
"For gracious' sake, what did we want to retreat for?" demanded Ben, as soon as the command halted and Major Morris had come within speaking distance. The young captain had been at the very front of the firing line, and had seen that complete victory was only the work of a quarter of an hour or less.
"Orders from general headquarters," replied the major, in a low tone. "I fancy the staff is pretty angry, too," he added.
"We could have whipped them with ease."
"So we could, captain, but—" And Major Morris finished with a shrug of his shoulders which meant a good deal.
"I don't believe General Otis would have given such an order had he been here to see what was going on," continued Ben, earnestly.
"Well, we're ordered back to Angat, and that is all there is to it. The army must have supplies, you know."
"Hang the supplies!" muttered Gilmore, but under his breath. "We can get all the supplies we want as we go along." And Ben was rather inclined to agree with him.
There was no help, however, for the turn in the situation; and with crestfallen faces the soldiers moved still further back and went into temporary camp. Only a few had suffered, and the wounded ones were promptly cared for by the hospital corps.
"And how do you feel?" asked Gilbert, as he came up to see Ben. "Does the wound hurt still?"
"It itches, that's all," answered Ben. "But this retreat—"
"Makes one feel sore all over, doesn't it?" finished the young Southerner. "I must say I don't understand it at all. If we are going to round up any of these rebels, we can't do it by falling back and waiting for supplies."
Impatient as they were, however, the troops had to wait for two days before another movement was made. During this time supplies were hurried forward in large quantities, that there might be no more delays in the future.
In the meantime the troops under General MacArthur were by no means idle. They consisted of two brigades, that of General Hale on the right wing, and that of General Wheaton on the left wing. Of these troops the first advance was by some men of the Fourth Cavalry, who went forward to reconnoitre the enemy's position near Quingua. The start was made during the early morning, and before long the insurgents opened a heavy fire which the Americans returned with difficulty, as the rebels were well concealed by the tall grass and their intrenchments. To aid the cavalry a number of other troops were hurried forward, also several field-pieces; and in the end the Filipinos were forced from their position, with a heavy loss. In this battle the Americans lost six killed and forty wounded. Among the killed was Colonel Stotsenburg, commanding the First Nebraska Volunteers, who, after most gallantly leading his men, was shot down in the final rush upon the enemy's earthworks.
From Quingua the whole of General Hale's brigade moved down the Quingua River to Pulilan. Here no resistance was encountered, and after a brief rest the brigade pushed on toward Logundi. That town was not yet reached when the advance guard reported a breastwork across the main road, running to the river on the west and into the jungle on the east.
"Never mind, we'll go ahead anyhow!" shouted the soldiers of the Nebraska regiment; and go ahead they did, with the South Dakota and Iowa troops beside them, and several guns of the Sixth Artillery protecting their advance. The fight at the earthworks was a fierce one, some of the Filipinos refusing to surrender even when they knew they were beaten; and as a consequence many of them were slain whose lives might otherwise have been spared to them.
A short distance to the northwest of Logundi, the Quingua and the Bagbag rivers join in flowing into the Calumpit. The railroad crosses the Bagbag but a short distance away, and at this point General Hale's command reunited with that of General Wheaton, which had come up along the tracks from Malolos without difficulty. General Wheaton had with him the troops from Montana and Kansas, some Utah artillery, and one or two other commands, along with two armored cars, fitted out with Gatling and Hotchkiss guns and six-pounders.
It was soon discovered that the rebels had built strong breastworks in a semicircle along the north bank of the Bagbag and the western bank of the Calumpit Rivers, and had injured the railroad track for a distance of several hundred yards, and also the bridge spanning the river. As the approach to both rivers was largely an open one, how to dislodge the Filipinos became a serious problem.
"Forward with the armored cars!" was the cry, and they were rushed ahead as far as the torn-up condition of the railroad tracks admitted. A cannonading lasting for half an hour followed, in which one of the batteries on the highway also took part. The aim of the gunners was good, and soon the insurgents were seen to be pouring from the trenches, which were getting too hot to hold them. Yet a fair number held their ground, and when the troops on foot advanced they opened a blistering fire which laid not a few Americans low. But the victory was ours, and soon the followers of Old Glory were wading or swimming the river, while the engineering corps set to work to repair the damage done to railroad and bridge, so that the armored and baggage cars might pass through.
The cry was now, "On to Calumpit!" which town lies on the Calumpit River, and is divided into two parts by another stream, called the Rio Grande. It was found that the insurgents had practically deserted the lower half of the town, but had intrenchments on the upper bank of the Rio Grande which were even more formidable than those taken on the Bagbag. Here the rebels had also a Maxim and other guns, and it seemed as if for once the advance of the Americans was thoroughly blocked. Numerous good positions along the south bank of the river were held by our troops, but it looked as if they could not get over the stream without a tremendous loss of life.
It is said that the opportunity makes the man, and in this instance the saying proved a true one. With the soldiers under General Wheaton were the Twentieth Kansas Volunteers, who had already made a record for themselves at Malolos and elsewhere, as related in a previous volume of this series. They were commanded by Colonel Frederick Funston, a man comparatively young in years and small in stature, but one who was daring to the last degree, and who had seen much of fighting and hardships during his adventurous existence. In Cuba, Funston had fought most valiantly under Garcia for Cuban liberty long before any interference by the United States.
To Colonel, afterward Brigadier General, Funston belongs the honor of the passage of the Rio Grande, for it was he who planned what was done, and he and a score of his fighting Kansans who carried it out. The daring of the scheme is one which will live long in American history.
As before mentioned, the bridge was partly broken, but enough remained for the passage of soldiers who could climb from one iron cross-section to another. At first it was hoped that a body might go over the bridge in the dark, raise a great commotion, and cause the Filipinos a panic. This scheme was tried, but it failed; for the enemy was on strict guard, and would have shot down the men as rapidly as they appeared on the bridge.
Colonel Funston then proposed to go down the river bank for a considerable distance, build rafts, and, by means of a stout rope, ferry some of the best of his men across the stream in the dark. The landing of the men was to be covered by the heaviest possible fire from the American side, and, as soon as they were safe ashore, the Kansas soldiers were to secure some position where they might enfilade the enemy's trenches, that is, fire through them from one end, so that the Filipinos might no longer find them safe. In the meantime more troops were to come over with all possible speed.
On the way down the stream the Kansas soldiers demolished several huts, selecting the best of the timber with which to build their rafts. The moon was under a cloud, and it looked as if they might get across the river without serious trouble.
But as the crowd were constructing their rafts and getting their ferry rope ready for use, the moon came out brightly; and very soon the insurgents became suspicious and fired on the Americans, who were forced to retreat to the nearest shelter. The firing kept up the greater part of two hours, and at last the plan to cross over that night was abandoned.
But the Kansas colonel and his gallant men had determined to be the first into the enemy's camp, and once again they went to the spot previously selected, but this time in the broad daylight, when they might clearly see the shore opposite. No insurgents were in sight; and, after having made three rafts all right and tight, the rope was brought forth, and two men, named White and Trembly, were asked to carry it across the stream. The soldiers plunged into the water without delay, being watched by hundreds of their comrades left behind. The men were without their uniforms or weapons of any kind.
Slowly the pair swam the turbulent waters of the stream, and hardly had they gotten fifty feet from shore when the rebels opened fire upon them, at first a few scattering shots and then a perfect volley. That the swimmers escaped is little short of a miracle. But they remained untouched, and, gaining the opposite bank, they ran forward and tied the rope's end to a tree-stump. In the meantime two other soldiers started over the Rio Grande in a dugout, but this upset and let the men into the water, and they had to swim as had the others. But they landed with their guns intact, and at once opened fire at the nearest natives that showed themselves.
All this had happened with great rapidity, and now the first raft was coming across the river, loaded with Kansas soldiers officered by Colonel Funston himself. The raft became the target for the hottest kind of fire, and as the ferrying had to be done by the soldiers pulling along the rope stretched from shore to shore, the passage was as slow as it was dangerous. But the soldiers on the craft went over in safety, and soon more followed, until over fifty were on the beach fronting the enemy's intrenchments. Then, with a wild yelling, to give the rebels the impression that a large body had come over, they pushed forward to enfilade the enemy's trenches as first proposed.
But now another difficulty arose. There was a small stream flowing into the Rio Grande near this spot, and this had to be crossed before the fire of the Americans could be made effective. How to get across was a problem, as the insurgents had a machine gun trained on the spot. This worked for a while and then stopped; and in the lull Colonel Funston secured a rowboat and went over with some of his men, and the others soon followed.
The Filipinos were now thoroughly frightened, for the Americans were making a great outcry down by the railroad bridge, and they imagined that they were to be attacked from several points at once. Some started to run, and as soon as Colonel Funston's men began to rain their bullets into the long trenches, more followed, until the enemy was in a panic. Then the Americans began to cross the bridge and stream in great numbers, and the Filipinos, although reenforced by a body of Macabebes just at this time, could not make an effective stand. Calumpit was left behind, and a running fight ensued which ended at Apalit, when a violent tropical thunderstorm put an end to the day's operations. It was thought that the rebels' headquarters would be found at Apalit; but this had, at the last moment, been removed to San Isidro, toward which General Lawton was now advancing.
SOMETHING ABOUT A POISONED WELL
After the rest at Angat, the taking of San Rafael by General Lawton's troops was an easy matter, and on May 1—the anniversary of Admiral Dewey's great victory in Manila Bay—the soldiers set out for the town of Baliuag, five miles to the northward.
In spite of the recent rain, the road was hard and even dusty in spots. The heat was still as great as ever, and Ben was glad to take the benefit of any shade that afforded itself as he marched along at the head of his command. The date made him think of the battle just mentioned, and this brought him around to Larry once more, and he began to wonder if his brother would ever turn up again.
"I suppose I'll have to write to Walter and to Uncle Job about this," he muttered dismally. "But I hate to do it, especially if Larry does turn up, for I know it will worry both of them greatly."
The road was thick with palms and plantains and trailing plants, the latter of gorgeous colorings. Nipa huts and bamboo cottages were numerous, but the inmates kept themselves well hidden as the little army passed by. In the distance were paddy-fields and cane-brakes, and along the road were numerous mud-holes, some of which had to be bridged over before the artillery could pass in safety. More than once horses and cannon got stuck, and many a shoulder had to be put to the pieces to budge them.
"If there was no war, this would be a delightful spot in which to spend a vacation," remarked Gilbert, who had come up for a little talk, as was his habit when they were pushing ahead in irregular formation. "I reckon the natives take solid comfort in their homes."
"I suppose it puts you in mind of the South at home," returned Ben, with a smile, "It is nice, certainly. But I fancy this continual heat would make one mighty lazy in time."
"Well, the natives are lazy, you can easily see that," laughed the young Southerner. "I wish I could get a good drink of water," he added, a minute later.
They soon came to a pretty dwelling, set in a perfect wilderness of flowers and shrubs. Toward the side they made out a well, and ran forward to fill their canteens.
The pair were at the well when a shrill cry from one of the side rooms of the house attracted their attention. Looking up, they saw a native girl waving her hand frantically at them. The girl was nicely dressed and evidently belonged to the better classes.
"We only want a drink!" shouted Ben, thinking that the maiden might imagine they had come into the garden to steal.
But the girl shouted more loudly than ever, and waved them away from the well. "Bad! bad!" she cried.
"Oh, no, we are not so bad as you think," Gilbert shouted back; and was about to take a drink from a cocoanut-shell dipper which hung handy, when the girl came out of the cottage on a run and dashed the dipper to the ground. At the same time an evil-looking Filipino appeared at the doorway, shook his fist at the girl, and then suddenly ran for the barns behind the dwelling and disappeared.
"I want a drink and I'm going to have it," began Gilbert, sternly, for he did not like the manner in which the water had been spilt over his clothing. "If you—"
"The well is poisoned; don't drink, it will kill you!" gasped the girl, in Spanish.
As old readers know, Gilbert understood a little of the language, having picked it up while on a trip to Cuba, and also while serving as a Rough Rider in that island. He started back and caught the maiden by the arm.
"Poisoned! you are certain?" he cried.
"Yes, senor; my uncle put the poison in only yesterday. He lost much at Angat, and he is very angry at the Americanos in consequence. He knew the soldiers were coming this way, and he wanted to poison as many as he could. He put a water-barrel down on the road full of the poisoned water, too."
"Who is your uncle, the man who just ran off?"
"Yes, senor. But, oh, do not go after him, I pray you!" cried the girl, in high alarm. "I would not have spoken, but I could not see you poisoned before my very eyes; no, not that!"
As quickly as he could, Gilbert translated her words to Ben, who listened in amazement.
"The villain!" ejaculated the young captain. "I've heard of this sort of thing being done before. I wonder where that barrel is that she spoke about? We must find it and empty it of its contents."
Gilbert put the question to the girl, who announced that the barrel was on another road back of the plantation. Whether any of the soldiers had reached it or not was a question.
As quickly as he could Ben reported the situation to his superior, and received orders to divide his company, leaving a part to guard the poisoned well so that no Americans might drink from it, while the rest should go and hunt up the water-barrel. Gilbert was detailed to accompany Ben, and the girl was given to understand that she must take the soldiers to where the barrel had been set up.
At first the maiden demurred; but there was no help for it, and the kind smiles which Gilbert and Ben gave her were an assurance that no harm was about to befall her. Yet she was afraid that when the reckoning came her uncle would deal harshly with her, and trembled violently as she moved through the rice-fields with the two young officers beside her.
The little command had nearly reached the back road when the report of a gun rang out, coming from the direction of a wood behind the rice-fields. The bullet sped past Ben's shoulder, to bury itself in the fleshy part of one of his private's arms.
"'Tis my uncle!" cried the girl. "Oh, he will kill us all, I am sure of it!" And she became so agitated that she sank down and could not go another step.
Without hesitation, Ben ordered his men forward on the run, and away went the detachment for the spot from whence the unexpected shot had come. As the soldiers neared the wood they beheld a Filipino in the act of running across a small opening.
"That's him, the rascal!" roared Dan Casey, and taking a hasty aim he fired, and the rebel was seen to plunge forward on his face. When the party came up they found that the man had been hit in the hip, and that the wound, while not necessarily dangerous, was serious, and would put the fellow out of the contest for several months.
"It serves him right," said Ben. "Poisoning drinking water is not fair fighting."
The girl soon came up, crying bitterly. She wished to remain by her uncle, but Ben made her understand that she must point out the water-barrel first, and after that he would have two soldiers remove the wounded man to the cottage.
Ten minutes later the rear road was gained, and here the water-barrel was found, set up on end, with the top knocked out. It was three-quarters full of water, and a dozen or more soldiers were drinking and filling their canteens.
"Stop drinking!" ordered Ben, when still at a distance. "That water has been doctored and will make you sick." He refrained from saying the water was poisoned for fear of creating a panic.
The water was at once poured out on the ground and the barrel smashed up. Then a surgeon was found, to whom Ben related the facts of the case. A canteen of the water was examined, and the surgeon decided to give the man who had drunk the stuff an emetic. A few of the soldiers were taken with cramps inside of an hour afterward, and two of them were seriously sick for a week; but no lives were lost. But if the soldiers could have got at the Filipino who had poisoned the water, they would have shot him on the spot.
As soon as the danger was over, Ben returned to the wood, and had two men carry the wounded man back to the cottage, where he was left in charge of his wife and his niece. Through Gilbert it was learned that the wife had also remonstrated against using the poison, so it was fair to suppose that the aunt would protect her niece to a certain degree. "But she'll have a hard time of it for doing us a service, I'm afraid," said the young Southerner, as he and Ben resumed the march.
The scouts, under Chief Young, were in advance, and now a steady firing from the front told that another battle was at hand. Soon General Lawton came dashing through the crowd on the road, followed by his staff.
"Forward, boys!" was the cry, and then Ben's command left the road and took to the rice-fields on the outskirts of Baliuag. The line was a long one, with the Oregon and Minnesota soldiers forming the skirmishing end, and Scott's battery in a paddy-field on the extreme right. So far the insurgents had kept well hidden; but as the Americans drew closer to the town they could be seen running in half a dozen directions, as if undecided whether to fight or to flee.
The townspeople themselves were in a panic, and down the streets ran Filipinos and Chinese, some with their household effects piled high on their backs. They had heard of the coming of the Americanos, but had hoped almost against hope that their beloved town would be passed by unmolested.
Ben's regiment was moving along rapidly when they came to a ditch which seemed to divide the rice-field in half. A short pause followed, when along came the cry of "Down!" and every man dropped, and none too soon, for the insurgents had opened up unexpectedly from a cane-brake behind the rice-field.
"We must take that cane-brake," came the order from the colonel, and the word was passed along quickly, and away went the companies with a ringing cheer, firing as they ran, and reloading with all possible speed.
Ben was now truly in his element, and, waving his sword, he urged Company D well to the front, so that the cane was soon reached. But the rebels were not game for a hand-to-hand encounter and fled once more, through the cane and over a field of heavy grass leading to the very outskirts of the town beyond.
"They are running away!" was the cry. "On we go, boys, and the town will be ours in less than half an hour."
But now a halt was ordered, on the edge of the cane-brake. From the outskirts of the town appeared a Filipino waving a white rag over his head.
"Flag of truce!" cried the American general. "Cease firing!" And the order was instantly obeyed. "Major Morris, you can select a detail of three men and find out what they want."
"I will, general," answered the major of the first battalion, and saluted. He had soon chosen his men, one of whom was Gilbert Pennington, and, waving a white flag before them, the party of four advanced into the open field.
IN WHICH A FLAG OF TRUCE IS FIRED UPON
Major Morris well knew the wiliness of the Filipinos, yet he did not doubt but that they would pay due respect to a flag of truce which they had themselves invited. Accordingly he advanced boldly with his little party, until the four had covered fully one-half of the distance which separated the American troops from the point where the rebels had taken a stand.
"He is thrustin' thim a whole lot!" groaned Dan Casey, who was the closest man in the ranks to Ben. "If he gits plugged—"
"They won't dare to fire, Dan," said a companion. "If they did—"
The speech was cut short by the pop of a Mauser rifle, followed by two more pops, and the private who carried the white flag was seen to fling the banner down and fall headlong. In the meantime, the Filipinos who had appeared with the white rag were running back to their own ranks with all possible speed.
"They have fired on the flag of truce!" The cry arose from a hundred throats, and then a scattering volley rang out. At the same time the Filipinos opened up in a body, and Major Morris, Gilbert, and the third man were seen to pitch into the tall grass in such a manner that they were almost hidden from view.
"Gilbert is shot! And Major Morris too!" Such was the painful thought which ran through Ben's brain. He looked at the colonel pleadingly.
"Advance at once, Captain Russell, with the first battalion, to the rescue of the flag of truce," ordered the colonel, understanding him fully. "After this, give the enemy no quarter."
"Forward, men, to the rescue!" shouted the young captain, almost before his superior had finished. "Deploy to the left and fire at will. And make every shot tell!" he added bitterly.
"Forward it is!" shouted Dan Casey. "Down wid the haythins that don't know the manin' av honor!" And he led in the rush over the long grass.
The whole line was soon advancing, but Ben's company was in front, and kept there until within a hundred feet of where the four men had gone down. Then, to his amazement, the young captain saw Major Morris leap up, followed by Gilbert and the third soldier, and run with all speed toward the American line.
"Not shot!" cried Ben, joyfully. "Heaven be thanked for that!" And he almost felt like embracing his two friends. Only the flag-bearer had been struck, and he not seriously. The others had gone down in the long grass to destroy the enemy's aim. The wounded flag-carrier was taken to the rear, and then the whole line pushed on with a yell which was as savage as it was loud and long. The incident, short as it was, was not forgotten, and when one end of the American line closed in on the retreating insurgents the latter fought to the last, knowing only too well that little quarter would be given to them because of their perfidy.
The long American line had swung toward Baliuag in a semicircle, and now, when the insurgents tried to flee by way of the north, they found themselves confronted front and rear. This put them in more of a panic than ever; and had General Lawton had a thousand additional troops, it is more than likely he could have surrounded the rebels completely and compelled every one in that territory to throw down his arms.
But he had not the extra men, nor could he get them. Moreover, he had hardly a decent map of the territory, while the enemy knew every field, every road, and every stream. They could not make a stand at Baliuag, nor could they run in the direction of San Rafael, so their only course was to take to the rice-fields, the cane-brakes, and the jungle, and this they did in short order.
By the time the outskirts of the town was gained Ben's command was almost exhausted; yet the colonel of the regiment felt that now was no time to rest, and company after company was sent out in the hope that some of the scattering bands of insurgents might be rounded up.
"Major Morris, you will take your four companies up yonder road," said the colonel, after receiving orders from General Lawton's orderly, and the head of the regiment pointed out the road in question. Soon the battalion was off on the double-quick, the major more than eager to wipe out the treachery which had been shown to him and his companions but an hour or two before.
The road which the battalion followed was a winding one, lined with cottages of the better sort, showing that this was a fashionable outskirt of the town. Only a few people showed themselves, and nothing was seen or heard of the insurgents until a quarter of a mile had been covered, and the best of the habitations had been left behind. Then came an unexpected fire from a cane-brake, and out dashed fully two hundred savage-looking Tagals armed with guns and bolos.
"Halt! Fire!" came the commands, and the Americans obeyed as quickly as possible. Several of our men had been hit, one seriously, and now half a dozen Filipinos went down. For several minutes the fighting was at close quarters, and it looked as if the battalion had run into an ambush and were about to be slaughtered.
"To the shelter of the trees!" shouted Ben, and was about to guide his men when a fierce-looking rebel officer leaped before him with drawn sword. His own blade met that of the enemy, and both flashed fire. But the Tagal was a fine swordsman and kept at his work, feeling certain that he could run the Americano through and through. Clack! clack! went the blades, up and down, side to side, and straight forward.
"Take care there!" came from Major Morris, and just then the Tagal's sword pricked Ben's arm. The young captain leaped back a step, then came forward, and as quick as lightning his sword found the Tagal's ribs. At the same time Dan Casey fired at the enemy, and the officer went down flat on his back, shot through the breast.
"I had to do it," cried the Irish volunteer. "I thought he was afther stickin' ye like a pig!"
"It was a close shave," murmured Ben, as he passed on. "He handled his sword like an expert. I shan't forget you for that, Casey."
"Sure, an' that's all right, captain," answered the soldier, quickly. "Is your arm hurted much?"
"I guess not. Come, we've got them on the run again." And away the pair went, into the cane-brake, through which the rebels were crashing like so many wild cattle.
The day had been full of excitement, but much more was to follow. The cane-brakes were heavy, and soon Ben and Casey found themselves separated from the main body of the battalion and out of sight of their own company. Then several Filipinos confronted them and called upon them to surrender.
"We ain't surrenderin' just yit, we ain't!" howled the Irish soldier, and let drive at the nearest rebel, while Ben discharged his pistol. Two of the enemy were wounded, and in an instant the others took to their heels, evidently convinced that such fighters were "too many" for them.
The encounter, however, had taken time, and now Ben called upon his companion to stop running. "We want to know where we are running to first," he said. "Listen."
They listened and made out a distant firing to both the right and the left. "I'm afther thinkin' our b'ys is to the right," said Dan Casey.
"I believe you are right, Casey; although both of us may be mistaken," rejoined the young captain of Company D. "We will try that direction, anyway."
They continued on their way through the cane-brake until they reached a small stream. Here the ground was soft and full of treacherous bog-holes, and both looked at each other in dismay.
"Sure, an' this is more than we bargained fer, eh, captain?" remarked Casey, as he pulled himself out of a hole into which he had gone almost to his knees. "If we don't look out we'll git stuck so tight there'll be no budgin' av us."
"The ground to the right seems to be firmer," replied Ben. "Come, we will move in that direction."
But to get out of the soft spot was not easy, and soon they found themselves between the tall cane and up to their knees in a muck that seemed to stick worse than glue.
"Sure, an' this is fightin' wid a vengeance," said the Irish volunteer, smiling grimly. "It's sthuck we are like flies on a fly paper, eh, Captain Russell?"
"We've got to get out somehow, Casey," answered Ben, half desperately. "Our command is marching farther and farther away, and we'll have all we can do to get up to them."
"Sure thin, an' Major Morris betther send a detail back wid a long rope to pull us out. We couldn't fly from the inimy now if we thried, could we?"
"This is no joke, Casey."
"Joke, bedad? No, captain, I'm afther thinkin' it's a mighty sarious difficulty. But there's no use av cryin', no matther how bad it is," finished the Irish soldier, philosophically.
A moment of reflection convinced Ben that the best thing he could do was to go back part of the distance they had come, and make an endeavor to cross the little stream at another point.
They retreated with difficulty, first one sinking into some treacherous hole and then the other. Once Casey went flat on his back, and gave a loud yell of dismay when he found himself covered with a mud that was more like a paste than anything else.
"Sure, an' I'll not go in such a cane-field again, bedad," he muttered, as he started to pick up the gun he had dropped. As he did so a cracking of cane-stalks near them caused both to straighten up in alarm.
"Who comes?" cried Ben, and drew the pistol he had shoved into his belt.
There was no answer and he repeated the demand. "Are you Americans?" he added.
Still there was no reply. But the cracking of the stalks continued, and the sounds seemed to move around the pair in something of a circle. Then came a soft command in the Tagalog dialect. At once Dan Casey clutched Ben by the arm.
"They be afther surroundin' us, captain," he whispered. "Be the noises there must be tin or a dozen av thim. Phwat shall we do, fight or run fer it?"
SURROUNDED BY THE ENEMY
For the moment after Dan Casey spoke Ben was silent, not knowing himself what was best to do. That the Filipinos were surrounding them there could be no doubt, since those approaching would have answered the young captain of Company D had they been Americans.
The position of the pair was dangerous in the extreme, for the tall cane-stalks surrounded them upon all sides, giving shelter to the enemy, while the Tagals could see the volunteers with ease.
"Keep quiet, Casey," whispered Ben, as the soldier started to speak again. "They may not know how many there are of us here and sneak off, fearing an ambush."
The Irish volunteer nodded to show that he understood. He was holding his gun before him, ready to shoot whenever it appeared necessary.
Presently there was another whispered command, coming from directly in front of our friends. A slight movement in the cane-brake followed, and then all became silent once more.
"Come!" whispered Ben. "Don't fire until you see me do so."
Thus speaking, the young captain moved slowly and cautiously from the spot they had occupied for five minutes or more. He picked his steps, and they fell as silently as those of a cat after a bird. Casey was at his heels, almost holding his breath, and his small eyes glistening with expectancy. Both knew that they were carrying their lives in their hands.
Two rods had been covered, and still nothing was seen of the Filipinos. Was it possible that they had withdrawn? But no, there was another cracking of cane-stalks and another command in the Tagalog language, coming now from their left. Then of a sudden a Mauser rang out, and a bullet whistled back of Ben's head and across Casey's face.
The report had not yet died out when Ben fired, straight for the flash of fire of which he had caught a momentary glimpse. That his shot reached its mark was proven by the wild yell of pain which followed.
"The jig is up!" cried Dan Casey. "We must run fer it, captain!" And as a Tagal came into view before them he fired point-blank at the fellow, hitting him in the breast and killing him on the spot.
As luck would have it, the Filipino whom Casey had killed was a petty officer and the leader of the detachment, and his sudden taking-off disconcerted the insurgents for a minute, who yelled one to another that their leader was shot. Taking advantage of the confusion, our friends rushed headlong through the cane-brake, firing several times as they ran. A dozen shots answered them, but none of these took effect.
"I think the road is yonder," said Ben, pointing with his pistol as they progressed. "Hark!"
From a distance came a scattering volley, proving that the fighting was not yet over. It came from the direction in which they were running. But now those left behind were after them, shooting and shouting with vigor, for they were ten to two, and were determined that the wicked Americanos should not escape their clutches.
At last the cane-brake was left behind. Beyond was a small part of a rice-field, and close by a cottage which appeared deserted.
"Sure, captain, an' we'll be shot down like dogs if we show ourselves in th' open," panted Casey, who was almost out of breath.
"Get behind the house," answered Ben. "It is our one chance," and he started in advance. Again the Filipinos fired on them, and this time a bullet touched the young captain's side, cutting a straight hole through his clothing.
They were yet a hundred feet from the cottage when two American soldiers came rushing forth, guns in hand. The strangers took in the situation at a glance, and let drive with such good aim that two of the enemy fell back wounded. The others paused, not knowing how many Americans might be concealed in the building, and in another minute Ben and Casey were for the time being safe.
"By gum, ef it ain't Captain Russell!" cried one of the soldiers, as he faced Ben. "I'm right glad to be yere to help ye, cap'n," and he smiled broadly.
"Ralph Sorrel!" returned Ben, as he recognized the tall Tennesseean who had once accompanied him on a search for Gilbert when the young Southerner was missing. "What are you doing here?"
"Jeming an' me hev got a wounded man with us—Sergeant Kaser o' our company. We war takin' him back o' the lines, when he got so bad we brung him in yere to rest a spell. But you—"
"Thim rebels is comin' agin!" announced Dan Casey. "Six, eight, nine av thim, wid wan limpin'. How many av us are there here?" he asked, as he looked around.
"Four," answered Ben. "Load up, boys, and when you shoot—"
"We'll make every shot tell," answered Jeming, a hardy-looking soldier, almost as tall as his companion.
"I don't believe they will come very close," continued Ben. "They know that we have the advantage of them, even if we are but four to nine."
The young captain was right. The Filipinos had showed themselves only for a few seconds. Now, as Sorrel raised his gun, they lost no time in darting behind cover.
The cottage consisted of four rooms, all on the ground floor, and a low loft upstairs. It was well built and fairly furnished in native fashion. On the single bed it contained lay the wounded soldier, Sergeant Kaser, whom Ben had met several times. He was hit in the neck, and looked as if he could last but a few hours at the most.
"Sorry we can't git ye back to camp, sergeant," said Sorrel, as he did what he could to ease the wounded one's pain. "The house is surrounded by the enemy. I reckon we kin keep 'em out, but I reckon likewise thet they kin keep us in—at least fer a while."
"It—don't—matter," gasped Sergeant Kaser. "I am not—not—long for this world. What a terrible thing war is! I never thought I was going to be shot down like this!" And he gave another gasp. His eyes were staring from his head, for he was suffering severe pain.
Ben looked around the cottage for something which might be given to the sufferer to ease him. But the dwelling had been stripped of all small things, and nothing in the way of food, drink, or medicine remained. Sorrel had already bound a handkerchief soaked in cold water around the wounded neck, so nothing more could be done, excepting to raise the sufferer up to a sitting position, at his request. "I don't know as thet is best fer him," whispered the tall Tennesseean to Ben. "But he ain't long fer this world, as he says, an' he might as well hev his wish as not."
In the meantime Casey and Jeming were on guard, one watching to the front and right, the other to the left and rear. The nearest building to the cottage was a hundred and fifty feet away, but bushes and small trees were numerous, and the Americans were afraid the rebels might try to sneak up behind these and surprise them.
"Something is moving over there," announced Jeming, after watching several of the bushes for a short spell. "Can't make out, though, if it's man or beast."
"Have you plenty of ammunition?" asked Ben, who, as an officer, felt in charge of the party.
"Seventeen rounds, captain."
"And how about you, Casey?"
"Fifteen rounds," returned the Irish volunteer, after counting up the contents of his belt.
"I have twelve rounds, captain," came from Sorrel. "But I reckon you know how I shoot, an' Jeming's jest as good, mebbe better."
"I think the supply is sufficient," said Ben, "so don't run any chances. If you think that is an enemy give him a shot. But don't hit one of our fellows by mistake," he added, by way of caution.
"It's a Tagal!" cried Jeming, while the young captain was yet beside him. The gun was levelled like a flash, a report followed, and the Filipino fell behind the bushes and was seen no more.
"Thet will teach 'em to keep their distance," was Sorrel's comment. "Perhaps they'll clear out soon, bein' afeered some more o' our troops will come this way."
But the natives were "game," as Ben expressed it; and instead of withdrawing, they began to come closer, using every bush, tree, and outbuilding to the best advantage. Some of their fellows had joined them, so that the attacking party now numbered fifteen, and each well armed. They had seen that Ben wore the uniform of a captain, and felt that the capture of such an officer would be much to their credit.
Sergeant Kaser was now groaning so that he could be heard even outside of the building, and as the rebels had fired through the windows several times, they concluded that they had wounded one of the four men they knew to be inside. If this was so, but three Americanos were now left, and they felt that victory would soon be within their grasp.
"Surrendor, or we kill eferyboddy!" cried one of the number, in English that could scarcely be understood. "We haf dreety mens outside."
"We ain't surrenderin', not by a jugful!" answered Sorrel. "What in thunder does he mean by 'dreety mens'?" he added, to his companions.
"I think he means thirty," answered Ben. "But I don't believe there are that many."
"Yes, but there are more than there was," announced Casey, quickly. "I'm just afther seein' 'em pass yonder bushes." He had pointed his gun, but the Filipinos had been too quick for him.
"Do you surrendor?" demanded the voice again. "We shall begin to shoot if you no gif up."
"No surrender," answered Ben, firmly.
Hardly had he spoken when something came rolling toward the cottage and stopped close to the porch. It was a rude ball made of sugar-cane husks and over a foot in diameter. The ball was ablaze and burning fiercely, as if covered with pitch.
THE ESCAPE FROM THE BURNING HOUSE
"Hullo, that's a new wrinkle!" exclaimed Ben. "They are going to try burning us out."
"Sure, an' thim haythins is up to all sorts av dodges," cried Dan Casey. "It's meself as would like to git a squint at th' feller that threw that."
"I've got him, I reckon," whispered Sorrel, taking a ready aim at a thin hedge to the left of the house. The report of his gun was followed by a shriek of pain, and a Filipino fell into view, the blood flowing freely from a wound in his neck. Soon his companions caught him by the legs and dragged him back into cover.
After this brief exchange of "compliments," as the tall Tennesseean called it, there came a lull. Evidently the natives were disconcerted by the unexpected fall of the man who had thrown the fire-ball and knew not what to do.
"Do you suppose they have quitted the vicinity?" questioned Jeming, after listening vainly for some sound from without. From a distance came a scattering fire, but around the native house was the silence of death, for the man who had been shot by Sorrel had fainted from loss of blood.
"They are up to something, you can be certain of that," answered Ben. "The Filipino is at his worst when he is silent."
"Right ye air, cap'n," put in Sorrel. "Yere she comes agin—an' a scorcher, too!"
From over the bushes came a huge fire-ball, blazing brightly. It struck the thatch of the cottage close to the edge of the roof, and before it fell to the ground had set fire to the abode, which began to burn as though no shower had wet it for a month.
"That settles it!" came from Jeming. "We've got to get out, or we'll be burnt up like rats in a corn-crib."
"But the sergeant—" began Sorrel, when a low moan issued from the corner.
"Never—mind—me, boys," came, with several gasps. "I'm—I'm going! Good—good—bye—to—to— Tell mother—"
He said no more, but fell back exhausted. All rushed to him, but ere anybody could raise his form again he was gone from this earth forever.
Tears stood in the eyes of Ralph Sorrel, and Jeming was scarcely less affected, for both had known the sergeant intimately. "Another victim," murmured the tall Tennesseean. "How long is this yere blamed war goin' ter last, anyhow?"
"Not much longer, I hope," answered Ben, in a low voice. "I, for one, have seen enough of bloodshed." Then the young captain straightened up, for fear he might break down. "But we must attend to our duty, and get away if we can. See, the flames are eating in at the window."
"All right, cap'n, I'm ready," said Sorrel. "But we must carry this yere body outside fust. We can't let it be burnt up, nohow."
He nodded to Jeming, who understood, and covering the form of the dead man with a blanket, they marched to the door with the stiffening form. The coast seemed clear, and they darted out and deposited their grewsome burden on the grass. They were just returning to the shelter of the doorway when two shots rang out, but neither was effective.
By this time the cottage was burning so fiercely that to remain inside longer would have proved highly dangerous. Accordingly, Ben called a council of war.
"I think we had best strike out for the grove of trees on the right," he announced. "The distance is shorter than to the other shelters, and the grass is so high that perhaps we can get some benefit by stooping down as we run."
"Right ye air, cap'n," answered Sorrel, and Casey and Jeming nodded.
"Surrendor, you Americanos!" came in a shout from without. "Surrendor, you beasts!"
"Let them burn up, they deserve it!" came in Spanish.
"All ready?" asked Ben, and receiving a nod, he hurried to a side window. Below was a small bush, and in a moment he had dropped to the ground. As he started through the long grass, Casey and the others followed him.
A wild yell speedily showed that this new movement had been discovered, and a dozen shots rang out. But the Filipinos were too excited to shoot straight, and the bullets merely clipped their way through the mango and other trees, or buried themselves in the side of the burning building.
At first Ben thought to fire in return. But to find shelter was the prime consideration, and on he went, holding his pistol in readiness, but without pulling the trigger. Here and there a Filipino could be seen flitting from bush to tree, but these glimpses were short and far from satisfactory.
"They are coming!" came from Dan Casey, just as the nearest of the trees was gained. "Back, ye rascals!" he shouted, and fired as quickly as he could. Casey was right; the Tagals were surrounding them, and now they had to fight back to back, in as hot a contest as the young captain had ever seen. They were clearly outnumbered, but retreat was impossible, for the Filipinos surrounded them upon every side.
What happened during the next five minutes is almost impossible to describe, for every movement was executed with lightning-like rapidity, the Filipinos bound to kill or capture the Americans, and at the same time afraid that they would slip like eels through their fingers. After a score of shots taken at a distance, they closed in, and Ben found himself confronted by two fierce-looking men, one armed with a Mauser rifle and the other with a wicked-looking bolo. The Mauser was empty, and its owner evidently out of ammunition, for as he advanced he used the weapon as a club.
Ben was hard pressed, for his pistol was now empty, and there was no chance to reload it. But his sword kept the two Tagals back, and had it not been for his gun, one of the enemy would have had his head split open from the blade. But now the rascal with the bolo tried to attack the young captain from one side, while he with the gun swung around to the other.
Ben could expect no aid from his companions, for all were as hotly engaged as himself; indeed, Sorrel more so, for he was fighting three men, while Jeming and Dan Casey, side by side, and with their backs against a heavy thorn-bush, were fighting the balance of the detachment.
The young captain felt that he could do little or nothing more, and expected each instant to have his assailants hurl themselves directly upon him, when a shout came from Sorrel which gave all of our friends hope.
"Some soldiers air comin'!" sang out the Tennesseean. "This way, boys, this way, an' be quick about it!"
"What's the matter?" came in a hoarse growl from the roadway, and in a few seconds a whole company of the North Dakota troops burst into view. Their captain, a short, fat man, but one who was an excellent fighter, took in the situation at a glance, and ordered the Filipinos surrounded.
Taken by surprise, the Tagals were dumfounded, and for half a minute knew not what to do. Then they started to run, but this movement came too late, and four went down at the first volley from the newly arrived men. The others, realizing their helplessness, threw down their arms and surrendered.
"Had it hot, eh, captain," said the North Dakota man to Ben as he came up with a quizzical smile on his round face, from which the perspiration was pouring in a stream.
"Yes," panted Ben. "You came up in the nick of time, and I must thank you for—"
"That's all right, captain—no more than you would do for me, and I know it." The North Dakota man shook hands. "It's been a long running fight to-day," he added. "Where is your command?"
"That remains to be found out," answered Ben. "Have you seen any of them during the last two hours? I and one of my men became separated from them in the cane-brakes."
"I guess you'll find them up near Baliuag. Most of the troops are up there. But I wouldn't try going around by this road, for the rebels are scattered in small bands all over this territory. You'll find the main road all right."
"What will you do with these prisoners?"
"Take them up to the main road and send to the colonel for orders."
"Then I will go with you," said Ben, and spoke to the others about it. Soon the whole party was on the way, Sorrel and Jeming carrying the dead form of Sergeant Kaser between them, with Casey trudging near to give them a lift whenever necessary.
It was now growing dark, and looked as if a thunderstorm was at hand. Seeing this, the detachment pushed forward rapidly, until at last the main road was gained. Here, from one of the drivers of a quartermaster's turnout, they learned that Ben's regiment had gone into temporary camp on the outskirts of the town of Baliuag, which was a mile further on. A number of Americans were missing, having become lost in a manner similar to Ben and Casey.
The young captain now lost no time in marching forward once more, and reached his regiment in less than half an hour. He found his company in charge of Gilmore. Many had given him up for dead, and they were delighted at his reappearance.
"We can't do without you," said the acting first lieutenant. And as he shook hands his honest face showed that he meant what he said.
"And I don't know that I can do without my company," replied Ben. "Anyway, I'm awfully glad to be back. In the future, I must be a little more careful about keeping the boys in sight."
NEWS FROM HOME
It was evident that the majority of the insurgents had now had enough of fighting, for while the engagement just mentioned was taking place, General Luna of the Filipinos sent forward his chief of staff to General MacArthur, with a request that hostilities cease, pending a conference of Americans and Filipinos looking toward a settlement of existing difficulties.
But our leaders knew only too well what delay meant, and refused to enter into any compact unless the natives first threw down their arms. The Filipinos wanted their freedom, but events had now so shaped themselves that absolute freedom for them appeared to be out of the question. So the conference practically amounted to nothing. And while this was taking place, General Hale began to move eastward to join General Lawton's command on its march toward San Isidro. It was the policy of all the American commanders to give the Filipinos no rest during the short time left to them before the heaviest of the rainy season set in.
A rest of two days did Ben's company a world of good. Communications with Malolos were now opened, and supplies were coming forward rapidly. With the supply wagons came Carl Stummer, just from the hospital and still somewhat "shaky," but eager to be again on the firing line.
"I could not dink me of stayin' any longer," he said, as he shook hands all around. "Der docther say, 'You vos besser here,' und I say, 'I ton't gits me no besser bis I schmell dot powder purning vonce more alretty!'"
"Well, it's powdher ye'll be afther shmellin' soon," put in Dan Casey. "It's forward we go to-morrow, so th' colonel is afther sayin'."
"Goot!" said Carl. Then he added with a faint smile. "You see, Tan, I vos afraid you kill all dem Filibenos off pefore I could git here."
"Sure an' I saved a couple fer ye, Carl," replied his chum. "Ye'll not be wantin' fer a scrap, I'll warrant!" And then he related his own and Ben's adventures, to which the German volunteer listened with much interest.
The wagon train had brought in the mail, and this included the usual letters for Ben—one from Walter and the other from Uncle Job Dowling. Ben breathed a long sigh as he opened the communications.
"I'm going to spring a surprise on you," so wrote Walter. "I've been reading the newspapers, and it makes me weary to think that I am just cruising around with our squadron doing nothing, while you and Larry are right in it, head and heels. I've applied for a transfer to one of the warships in Manila waters, and it may be that before this reaches you I will be on the bounding Pacific on my way to join you and Larry in our fight with Aguinaldo and his supporters. Si Doring, my old Yankee chum, has applied with me, so we'll probably come on together, and when we get there you and Larry will have to look to your laurels, that's all."
"Dear Walter!" murmured Ben, after reading the letter twice. "What will he say when he hears that Larry is missing? If Larry doesn't show up, it will break his heart, and it will break mine, too!" And he brushed away the tears that sprang up in spite of his efforts to keep them down. Then he turned to the heavy, twisted scrawl from his Uncle Job.
"It's rare good news you have sent, Ben," wrote the old man, after stating that he was in good health, "and the news comes none too soon, for the party who took a mortgage on my house wants his money, and where I am going to get it I don't know, with money so tight and interest and bonus so high. I've told him that Braxton Bogg is captured,—and he saw it in the newspaper, too,—and he is about of a mind to wait for his money now until the bank gets back what was stolen, and settles up. For myself, I can't hardly wait till that time comes; and after this you can be sure I'll be mighty careful where I put my cash and what's coming to you three boys, too. You won that thousand dollars' reward fairly, and I hope you and Larry won't squander it like most soldiers would. I thought that war would end soon, but it appears like it would go on forever. Tell Larry to take good care of himself, and mind that you don't get shot."
"Poor Uncle Job—he'll be in a hole again," murmured Ben. "Evidently he wrote this right after I sent word Braxton Bogg was caught, and he doesn't know anything of my being shot and getting over it, and of Benedicto Lupez skipping out with what Bogg stole. Hang the luck, but everything seems to be going wrong." And Ben grated his teeth, in a mood hard to explain.
"What's up, Ben?" The question came from Gilbert, who had just come up to watch the young captain, in considerable surprise.
Ben showed the two communications. "I'm just thinking of what I had best write to my Uncle Job," he returned. "I'm afraid it will break the old fellow's heart to learn that the money is gone—and after he is trying to turn over a new leaf, too."
"And the news about Larry will cause him pain, too, I reckon."
"No doubt, but—but—well, between you and me, Gilbert, I'm afraid the money will hurt the worst—Uncle Job always did set such a store by a few dollars. As for me, I'd give all I'll ever be worth if only I knew Larry was safe," concluded the young captain, arising from a seat under a palm tree as Major Morris came forward to speak to him.
"Captain, I'm ordered to the front to-night, to do a little reconnoitring," said the major of the first battalion. "I thought perhaps you would like to go out with me. Possibly we can again get on the track of that Bogg fortune;" and he smiled faintly, for he had been with Ben on the night Braxton Bogg had been first made a prisoner.
"I'll go out with you gladly," answered the young captain, promptly. "But I doubt if that money is ever found—or my brother Larry, either," he added, with bitterness.
"Oh, cheer up, captain, you are blue to-night. Come, a little danger will put you on your mettle once more, and you'll forget all about this thing—although I'll allow it's enough to make anybody heart-sick."
Supper was served, and the sun had long since sunk to rest over the vast plain and ocean to the westward, when Ben and Major Morris set out, taking with them an ample supply of ammunition and likewise a day's rations, for they were to move directly into the heart of the enemy's country and might be absent for a day or longer. The object of their going was to find out if a certain Lieutenant Caspard, who had deserted the American ranks, was with the rebels now gathering at Maasin, and if so, whether or not he was acting as an officer of the Filipino forces. If they could catch the deserter and bring him back, they were to be well rewarded. Strange to say, the orders were not to shoot him if it could be avoided.
"It's a strange mission," said Major Morris, as they set out. "But such are Colonel Darcy's orders, and he is backed up in them by the general. Between you and me, I think this Caspard has been playing a double game between our forces and those of the Filipinos, and those at headquarters want to find out just what it means. One man told me that this Caspard was out of his head, and had an idea that he could stop the war by telling the rebels we would grant them everything they want if only they would throw down their arms."
"Would the rebels swallow such a yarn?"
"Some of the more ignorant might. But that isn't the point; Caspard may have given them some military information of vast importance. You must remember we are in a territory that may be full of pitfalls for us," concluded the major.
Ben thought but little of the ending of this speech at the time, but had good cause to remember it before midnight. On they pushed past the picket guard and on to a side road which it was said would bring them around to the north side of Maasin. Both were in fairly good humor by this time, and the major told many an anecdote of army life which made Ben laugh outright. The major saw that his companion was indeed "blue," and was bound to dispel the blues if it could be done.
"And that story puts me in mind of one on General Grant," he continued presently. "Grant was sitting in his tent one night when—"
"Hush!" interrupted Ben, and caught his companion by the shoulder. Then he pointed into the semi-darkness ahead. "Are those rebels, or friends?"
The road they were pursuing was, for the most part, a winding one. But they had now gained a straight stretch, the farther end of which was somewhat in the open. Looking in that direction Ben had discerned six or seven figures stealing silently along, guns on shoulders and packs on their backs.
Major Morris came to a halt and surveyed the figures attentively. "I don't believe they are our men," he whispered. "None of the troops came as far as this—so the general stated."
"Then, if they are rebels, what have they been doing?" went on Ben. "See, they have picks and shovels and axes."
"Perhaps it's an engineering corps," and the major laughed softly at what he considered his little joke. "These Tagals are bound to be up-to-date, you know."
"Well, if they are an engineering corps, what have they been doing?" demanded the young captain, who felt by no means satisfied at his companion's words.
"I'll give it up—no, I won't, I'll go forward and investigate," came from the major. "There they go, around the turn, and walking just as fast as they can. If we want to catch up to them, we will have to hurry."
"We don't want to get too close, major. They are not the game we are after, remember."
"True, captain, but it won't do any harm to find out what we can of them. We may be doing General Lawton a great service by such an action."
The night was cloudy, and as they pushed forward to the bend in the road it became darker than ever, until they could see hardly anything of what was ahead of them. The way was evidently little used, for the grass grew thickly even in the centre of the highway.
The pair were going on, side by side, and with eyes strained to catch sight of those who had gone before, when suddenly Major Morris felt the ground giving way beneath him. "My gracious!" he ejaculated, and caught Ben by the arm. At the same instant the young captain uttered a cry, and also felt himself going down. Then came the snapping of slender bamboo poles, and the scattering of some loose grass, and down into darkness and space shot the pair, swallowed up utterly by a hole which had unexpectedly opened to receive them.
IN AND OUT OF A STRANGE PITFALL
Major Morris and Ben had fallen into a pit dug by the Filipinos for the purpose of catching their enemies. It was an old trick, and one which had been used quite extensively at the opening of the rebellion, but which was now falling into disuse, for the reason that few Americans were ever caught by the device.
The method was to dig a square hole in the centre of some trail or road which the Americans would probably use in their advance. At the bottom of this hole would be planted upright a number of sharp bamboo sticks, and then the top would be covered over with slender bamboo sticks and loose grass or palm leaves. If one or more persons stepped upon the top sticks, they would break at once, and the unfortunates would fall upon the sharp points below, which were certain to inflict more or less serious injury.
Fortunately, however, for the young captain and his companion, the hole into which they had tumbled was not provided with the sharp sticks mentioned. The natives had just finished the opening when an officer had called upon them to leave the vicinity as it was getting dangerous, owing to the rapid advances made by the Americans. So the trap had been set with its most dangerous element lacking.
Yet the fall was by no means a pleasant one, and for a brief instant the young captain of Company D thought that the bottom had dropped out of everything, and that he would surely be killed. He tried to catch hold of something, but all he could reach was the major's shoulder, and then both landed with a thud on the soft dirt left at the bottom of the hole.
Ben was the first on his feet, which was not saying much, since the bottom of the opening was not level, and he stood in the soft loam up to his ankles. Shaking himself to find that no bones were broken, he drew a long breath.
"Major, are you all right?" he asked.
"No—no—I'm not all—all right," came with a gasp. "I've had my wi—wind knocked ou—out of me."
"Any bones broken?"
"I gue—guess not. But wh—who ever heard of such a con—founded trick?"
"I've heard of it several times, major. But we are not as bad off as we might have been had the rebels put some sharp sticks down here to spit us with."
"True." Major Morris gave a grunt, and wiped the dirt from his eyes. "Well, I reckon we've learned what their engineering corps was up to."
This was said so dryly that in spite of his discomfiture Ben was compelled to laugh.
"Yes, we've learned. The question is, now we are down here, how are we going to get out?"
"Better make a light and see how deep the hole is first," replied the commander of the first battalion.
Fortunately Ben had plenty of matches with him, and striking one, he lit a bamboo stalk and held it up as a torch. By the flickering light thus afforded they saw that the hole was about eight feet wide and twice as long. The level of the road above was fully eight feet over their heads.
"Looks as if we were in a box, eh, captain?" said the major, grimly.
"We're certainly in a hole," responded Ben. "But I think we can get out without much trouble. I wish we had a spade."
"Well, wishing won't bring one, and there is nothing here to take the place of one, either."
"Nothing but our hands. Here, if you'll hold the light, I'll see what I can do."
"Here is a bit of a flat stick, try that," rejoined Major Morris; and taking the article mentioned, Ben set to work with vigor, attacking one end of the hole by loosening the dirt so that a large portion of it soon fell at their feet. Standing upon the fallen portion he continued his operations, and presently more of the dirt fell, leaving an incline up which both began to scramble on hands and knees. It was not a very dignified thing to do, but it was far better than to remain in the hole, and besides, there was nobody at hand to comment on the want of dignity in the movement.
"We are well out of that," began Major Morris, brushing off his clothing as he spoke. "In the future—"
"Hold on, major, somebody is coming," interrupted Ben, and pulled his companion back. He had seen a faint light advancing toward them, from a side road which joined the main road at a point but a few yards distant. Soon he made out a heavy cart approaching, drawn by a pair of caribaos, or water buffaloes. On the seat of the cart sat two sleepy-looking natives.
"We must stop that cart," was the major's comment. "If we don't, there will be a bad smash-up."
"I don't think it's a good plan to expose ourselves," replied Ben.
"But do you want those chaps to break their necks?" demanded the commander of the first battalion. "More than likely they are amigos."
"I've got a plan for warning them, major."
As Ben spoke he picked up some of the driest of the grass and palm leaves and applied a match to the stuff. It blazed up readily, and he threw the mass in with the other stuff about the edge of the hole.
"There, if they can't see that they must be blind," he said. "Come, let us get out," and off they ran for the thicket close at hand. From here they watched the cart and saw it come to a halt near the hole and knew that the turnout was safe.
"I shouldn't think the rebels would care to leave those holes about," was Major Morris' comment, as they pushed on once more. "They are as dangerous to their own people as they are to us."
"I suppose they tell their own people about them."
"Those men on the buffalo cart evidently knew nothing."
"The rebels don't care for the amigos. Their idea is, if a native is not with them, he is against them, and must suffer with the Americans."
To play the part of spies in such a country as this was not easy, for the Americans were easily distinguished from the natives. Had Ben and the major spoken Spanish fluently, they might have passed for Spaniards, as each was tanned from constant exposure to the strong sun. But this could not be, and so they had to go ahead and trust to luck to see them through with their dangerous errand.
At length they felt that they must be close to the enemy's picket line, and paused to consider the situation. Before them was a gentle slope, terminating at a small but deep stream which flowed into the Rio Grande River.
"I think some of the rebels are over there," said the major, pointing to a hill, from the top of which could be seen a faint glow. "There is certainly a camp-fire back there."
"There is a house just below us," returned Ben. "Or is it a mill?"
"A mill most likely. They wouldn't build an ordinary dwelling right at the water's edge."
"Perhaps the rebels are using the mill as a sort of headquarters. What do you say if we investigate?"
The major agreed, and they began to pick their way along the stream. Soon they reached a rude bridge, and were on the point of crossing, when a sharp cry rang out from the building they were approaching.
"Hullo, that's a woman's voice!" exclaimed Ben. "Somebody is in trouble."
"Help! thief! murderer!" came in Spanish. "Oh, help, for the love of kind Heaven, help!"
"It's a woman, true enough!" ejaculated the major. "I wonder what the trouble is?"
"I'm going to find out," answered Ben. The cry for aid appealed to his heart, and he bounded toward the mill-house, for such the building proved to be, without further hesitation. Nor was Major Morris far behind him.
As they came closer they saw that the structure was dark, saving for a faint light that came from one of the rooms built over the mill stream. It was in this room, evidently, that some sort of struggle was going on, for now both heard the cry for help repeated, followed by the overturning of a table. Then came the voices of two men, and the cry came to a sudden end.
"Two men are misusing some woman," cried Ben, "come on!" and rushing around to the front of the building, he found the rickety stairs leading to the house floor, and bounded upward. The door at the top stood ajar and he pushed it in, with Major Morris at his heels. The room at hand was dark, the struggle was going on in the apartment next to it.
Ben paused long enough to see that his pistol had not sustained any injury in the tumble into the hole, and was ready for use, and then threw open the door before him.
The light in the room was not very bright, but coming out of the darkness Ben could see but little, for a few seconds. The room was thick with the smoke of cigarettes, and through the haze the young captain made out two men standing beside an overturned table, one with a knife in his hand. To his intense surprise the men were Americans and dressed in the uniforms of regulars.
"What does this mean?" he demanded. "What are you—"
And then Ben got no further, for a swift look around the room told him that the two men were alone—that the woman he had heard crying for help was not there.
THE ADVENTURE AT THE MILL-HOUSE
For the moment it must be confessed that Ben was absolutely dumfounded, and Major Morris also. They had fully expected to see a woman in the hands of the regulars before them, and they could scarcely believe the evidence of their own senses.
But if the officers were astonished, the men they confronted were likewise taken back, and stared in amazement, which quickly gave way to consternation.
"What do you want?" demanded one, as soon as he could speak. And then he glanced over their shoulders to see if the newcomers were alone.
"We thought we heard a woman in trouble," answered Ben, slowly.
"And we did hear a woman," put in the major. "Where is she?"
The two regulars exchanged unsteady glances, for each was somewhat the worse for liquor. "There ain't no woman here," answered one of them, sullenly.
"Then who was crying for help?" persisted the young captain.
"See here, cap'n, you are on the wrong trail," came from the older of the regulars. "Me and Bill's jest been having a little rumpus between ourselves. We meant no harm by it."
"I don't believe you," came from Major Morris, promptly. "There is some mystery here, and as sure as you're born I'm going to find out what it is!" he went on.
The major had scarcely finished when Ben's eyes fell to the floor, and he saw the outline of a trap-door under one of the regular's feet. One edge of the door was raised about half an inch above the floor proper, as if the door had been opened and not put back evenly into place.
"Major, look at that trap-door!" he cried. "I'll wager they used it while we were coming up the outside stairs."
"You must be right, captain. If you'll—"
"We didn't use no trap-door," shouted the younger of the regulars, but he appeared much disconcerted over the discovery Ben had made.
"Captain, I have them covered," came from Major Morris, as he brought out the two pistols with which he had wisely provided himself. "Perhaps you had better investigate."
"I will," returned the young captain, and backed out of the room. The regulars wanted to stop him, but aiming his weapons at them the major told them to hold their peace.
"If everything is all right, you won't be harmed," he said. "But it doesn't look right to me. You have no business here, for one thing."
"And what business have you here?" demanded the older regular. And then he changed his manner. "We were captured in the fight of last week, and were just trying to get back to our lines again."
"We'll talk about that when my friend the captain gets back, my man. If we are treating you unjustly, I'll apologize and do the handsome thing by you," he added.
In the meantime Ben was making his way down to the bank of the stream, under the mill, with all possible speed. It was extremely dark, and he had to pick his way with caution for fear of tumbling into some ugly hollow. Below the mill was a fall of water, and here the stream ran between a series of sharp rocks.
Ben had just gained the bank of the stream when a low moan reached his ears. At first he could not locate the sound, but presently discovered that it came from the vicinity of the rocks. Feeling his way along he managed, but not without great difficulty, to gain the top of the rocks. Here he saw the water foaming and boiling twenty feet below.
"That woman must be down there," he muttered. Then he raised his voice. "Where are you?"
"Down here, by the rocks!" came back faintly. "Help! please help me!"
Locating the voice as well as he was able, the young captain began crawling down from one rock to another. This was difficult work, and he had to move with extreme care for fear of a tumble, which would land him directly into the boiling stream. At last, however, he found himself perched on a bit of a shelf, with the water less than two feet away.
From this point of view he beheld the sufferer, who was swinging in the water, with her arms tightly clutching a sharp stone which reared its point just above the surface of the stream. He saw that she was evidently a Spanish woman, well along in years, and that her dress was sadly torn, and her long hair was floating loosely over her neck and face.
It must be confessed that the young captain was perplexed over the situation that confronted him. The sufferer was just beyond his reach, and he felt that to plunge into the water after her would be to take a big risk, for if the stream at this point was over his waist, the force of the current would carry him off in an instant.
"Can you hold on a few minutes longer?" he called out.
"No! no! I am too weak," came more faintly than ever. "Help me quickly, and Heaven will reward you!"
"I will do what I can—but you must hold tight for a minute," answered Ben.
Just above his head a number of bushes were growing, and among these he had espied a long, stout-looking shoot. Clambering to this, he pulled out his pocket-knife and cut it off. Then he leaped down once more, and holding tight to the rocks with one hand, shoved out the branch with the other. "Catch hold, if you can," he cried.
The woman understood and gave up the rock for the stick, and Ben pulled her toward him. It was no easy task, and once it looked as if she would lose her hold and be swept away. But in a minute the danger was past, and the young captain was hauling her up to where he stood. She was thoroughly exhausted, and no sooner did he have her in his arms than she fainted.
One difficulty had been overcome, but another still remained, and that was to get up to the safe ground above the rocks. But once again the bushes growing out of the crevices came into play, and, hauling himself from one to another, Ben at last found himself safe, with his burden resting heavily over his shoulder.