It was now that the young captain found the woman was suffering from a blow over the left temple, from which the blood was slowly trickling. Laying the form down, he brought out his handkerchief and bound up the wound as well as he was able. This had just been accomplished when the sufferer came again to her senses and stared around her in bewilderment.
"You—you—am I safe?" she asked, in broken English, but in a sweet voice which went straight to Ben's heart.
"Yes, madam, you are safe," he answered. "Did those two men throw you into the stream?"
"Yes, yes! Oh, they are villains, senor—great villains."
"I must say they look it, even if they are of our troops," replied the young captain. "Come, do you think you can walk back to the mill with me?"
The woman said she would try, and he assisted her to her feet. She was still very weak, and readily consented to lean on his arm; and thus they moved slowly back the way the captain of Company D had come.
During all this time Ben had not heard a sound from the house, and he was anxious to know how Major Morris was faring, although feeling positive that the major was fully capable of taking care of himself. Now, as they came closer, he heard loud talking.
"We ain't goin' to stay, major,—an' it ain't right fer you to ask us to," the older of the regulars was saying.
"You will stay, and that's the end of it," came in the major's clean-cut tones. "If you attempt to pass through that doorway, I'll put a bullet through you."
"But we are friends, major, and—"
"I don't know that I am a friend to you. It depends upon what my companion the captain will have to report when he gets back."
"He won't have nuthin' to report, so far as we are concerned," put in the younger regular. "We ain't done any wrong, 'ceptin' to quarrel a bit between us. Everybody has a set-to once in a while, you know."
By this time Ben was tramping up the outside stairs, supporting the woman as before. Now he pushed his way into the outer room of the mill-house, the woman following with some hesitancy. At the appearance of their late victim the regulars fell back as though struck a blow.
"Nice sort of chaps you are," exclaimed Ben, hotly. "You don't deserve to wear Uncle Sam's uniform. A set of prison stripes would suit both of you much better."
"Hullo, you've found the lady," cried the major. "Sit down, madam, and tell us what this means."
A bench was handy, and the sufferer dropped heavily upon it. The regulars looked as if they wished themselves anywhere but in their present situation, yet they did not dare to budge, for Major Morris still held "the drop" upon them, and the commander of the first battalion looked as if he would stand no nonsense.
"These men came here to rob me," said the woman, slowly. "They are of your kind, but they are not honest."
"Then they are not of our kind," answered Ben, promptly. "We do not allow our soldiers to rob anybody."
"We didn't come to steal—" began the older regular, when Major Morris stopped him.
"Silence! Not another word until the lady has finished her story."
There was a second of painful silence, and the lady continued: "I am staying at the mill alone, for my husband has gone to the Laguna de Bay on business. Several hours ago, these two soldiers came in and demanded that I serve them with a hot supper. Not wishing to have trouble I gave them the best I had. But they were not satisfied, and broke into my husband's wine closet and drank two bottles of his choicest wine, and smoked his best cigarettes, package after package. Then, after drinking much wine, they demanded that I give them money, and that man," pointing to the older prisoner, "told his companion that I must have money hidden somewhere, as all the Spanish mill-owners in Luzon were rich, while the truth is, we are very poor, as the war has taken away everything. Then the men drank more, and at last they caught hold of me and threatened me with great violence if I did not give up what I had hidden away. I gave them the little silver I had, but they were not satisfied, and when I tried to run away, one hit me over the head with this bench. Then they plotted to get me out of the way entirely and go on a hunt for money themselves. I cried louder than ever, and then you started to come in. One of the men had opened that trap leading to the river, and as you came up the outer stairs both dropped me down, no doubt to drown me. I was swept down to the rocks at the falls, and there the capitan saved me, God bless him for it."
NEWS OF LARRY
For a minute after the Spanish woman finished, nobody in the mill-house spoke. Her tale had impressed both Ben and the major deeply, and they looked with cold contempt at the two regulars who had so disgraced the uniform they wore.
"This is a fine doings, truly," said Major Morris, at length. "I wonder what your commander will say when he hears of it."
"If you please, they have deserted the American army," put in the woman. "They said as much while they were drinking my husband's wine."
"It ain't so!" burst out the older regular, fiercely. "And that woman has told you a string of—"
"Shut up!" interrupted the major, sternly. "I will take this lady's word against yours every time—after what I have witnessed of both of you. Your name, please?"
"I ain't telling my name jest now," was the sullen response.
"Aren't you?" Up came the major's pistol again. "Your name, I said."
"And what is yours?" went on the commander of the first battalion, turning to the younger regular.
The man hesitated for a second. "My name is Jerry Crossing."
"Indeed! How is it your mate called you Bill awhile ago?"
"I don't believe either of the names is correct," went on the major.
"He is called Bill, and the other is Yadder," put in the Spanish woman. "I heard the names many times."
"Then that will answer, since I also have your company and regiment. Now, then, throw down your cartridge belts."
"Throw 'em down?" howled the regular called Bill.
"That is what I said. Throw them down at once."
"But see here, major—"
"I won't stop to argue with you. Throw the belts down, or take the consequences."
"And what will the consequences be?" questioned Yadder.
"The consequences will be that I will form myself into a court-martial, find you guilty of desertion, and shoot you down where you stand. Come, do those belts go down or not?"
"I reckon they go down," grumbled Yadder; and unloosening the article, he allowed it to slip to the floor, seeing which, his companion followed suit.
"Now both of you hold your hands over your heads, while Captain Russell searches you for concealed weapons."
"We ain't got no concealed weapons."
"I didn't ask you to talk, I told you to hold up your hands."
With exceeding bad grace the two deserters, for such they really proved to be, held up their arms. Approaching them, Ben went through one pocket after another and felt in their bosoms. Each had a long native knife, such as are usually used in the rice-fields.
"I suppose you do not call those concealed weapons," was Major Morris's comment, as Ben came over to him with the knives and the cartridge belts. The rascals' guns stood back of the door behind the commander of the first battalion.
"It ain't fair to take everything away from us," began Yadder, when two shots, fired in rapid succession, cut him short. The shots came from up the stream and not over fifty yards from the mill-house. Soon followed a shouting of voices, and all in the place knew that a band of rebels were approaching.
"They are after somebody!" exclaimed Ben. "They are coming—"
The young captain got no further, for just then there sounded a clatter on the outer steps, and a second later an American soldier burst into the mill-house. He was in tatters, and his left arm hung limply by his side, for he had been shot in the shoulder.
"Americans!" he gasped, as he cast a hurried glance about. "Thank God for that! The rebels are after me, half a dozen strong."
"He went up into the house!" came from without, in the Tagalog dialect.
"After him, men, the Americano must not escape us!"
And then footsteps were heard around the house and on the stairs. Ben and the major looked at each other questioningly. What was to be done?
"The trap," whispered the young captain. "If they come up here, we can escape through that."
There was no time to say more, for already the rebels were coming up the stairs, shouting loudly for the escaped Americano to give himself up. They advanced in a body, evidently not caring to separate in the darkness, and thinking to find the man alone.
With quick wit Ben ran and placed the table against the door, and on this piled the bench.
"Now the trap, and be quick!" he whispered, and Major Morris understood. Flinging open the door in the floor he looked down, to behold the stream flowing beneath.
"Follow me—it's the best way out," he said to the escaped prisoner. Then he dropped down, holding his pistols over his head, that they might not get wet.
The wounded man was in a desperate humor and lost no time in following. By this time the rebels were hammering lustily on the door which Ben was holding shut.
"What are we to do?" demanded the older of the deserters. "Are you—"
"You can take care of yourselves," answered the young captain, and rushing over to the trap-door he let himself through, closing the trap after him. Then came a plunge into the water, but the stream here was less than four feet deep, and he followed Major Morris and the wounded man to the bank without difficulty. A loud shouting came from overhead, followed by a storm of words from both rebels and deserters, and also from the Spanish woman. Fortunately for the woman, among the rebels was a nephew, who at once came to her aid, and had the two deserters from the American army made prisoners.
"We had better put a little distance between ourselves and that mill," suggested Major Morris, as all three shook the water from their lower garments.
"How is it? are you badly wounded?" asked Ben, turning to their newly made companion.
"Oh, I can go ahead," said the soldier. "It's rather painful, though."
"We'll take care of it for you at the first chance we get," added Ben; and then the three set off at a brisk pace along the stream and over the rocks to a grove in which they felt they would be comparatively safe until daylight, if no longer.
As the mill-house was left behind, all became quiet, and in the grove nothing disturbed them but the hum of the insects and the occasional cry of some night bird.
Lighting a match, Ben examined the man's wound and bound it up with the major's handkerchief, his own having been left behind with the Spanish woman. The stranger said that his name was Barton Brownell.
"I have been a prisoner of the insurgents for some time," he said, when asked to tell his story. "I was captured just before our troops took Malolos. They had six prisoners all told, and they took us to a place called Guinalo, which is probably forty miles from here, and up in the mountains."
"While you were a prisoner did you see or hear anything of a Lieutenant Caspard?" asked Major Morris, quickly.
"To be sure I did!" burst out Barton Brownell. "He came to see me several times. He has joined hands with the insurgents, and he wanted me to join them, too. But I told him I would rot first," added the wounded man, and his firmness showed that he meant what he said.
"And was Caspard in the field with the rebels?"
"Yes. He was hand in glove with General Luna and the other rebel leaders, and I think he had turned over some messages from General Otis's headquarters to the rebels. But, candidly speaking, I think Lieutenant Caspard is somewhat off in his head. Once he came to me and said that if only I and the other prisoners would join him, we could end this shedding of blood inside of a week."
"He must be crazy, to join the rebels," put in Ben. "Does he hold any position under them?"
"They call him capitan, but if he has such a position, it is merely a nominal one. I think the natives are beginning to suspect that he is not quite right in his mind. But still they love to hear him praise them, and they swallow a good bit of what he says, like so many children."
For the moment Major Morris was silent. Then he turned to Ben. "Our mission seems to have come to a sudden end," he said. "Brownell can tell Colonel Darcy all he wants to know." And he related to the escaped prisoner the reason for their coming beyond the American lines.
"Yes, I reckon I can tell the colonel well enough," answered Barton Brownell. "For I saw Caspard often, as I mentioned before, and he never knew what it was to keep his tongue from wagging."
"And how did you escape?" asked Ben, with interest.
"In a very funny way," and the soldier laughed. "As I said before, we were kept up in the mountains, in a large cave. There were six of our troop, but all told the prisoners numbered twenty-eight. There was a guard of four rebels to keep us from escaping, and an old woman called Mother Beautiful, because she was so ugly, used to cook our food for us—and the food was mighty scanty, I can tell you that.
"Well, one day two of the guards went off, leaving the old woman and the other two guards in sole charge. There had been a raid of some kind the day before, and the guards had some fiery liquor which made them about half drunk. The old woman got mad over this, and she was more angry than ever when one of the guards refused to get her a pail of water from a neighboring spring. 'I'll get the water, mother,' says I, bowing low to her, and would you believe it, she made the two guards let me out, just to get her the water."
"And the water hasn't arrived yet," said Major Morris, laughing.
"No, the water hasn't arrived yet," answered Barton Brownell. "As soon as I reached the spring I dropped the pail and ran for all I was worth, and hid in the brush along the mountain side. I stayed there two days and nearly starved to death. Then they hunted me out, and I received this wound. But I escaped them and made my way through the jungle and over the rice-fields to here, and here I am."
"You say there were twenty-eight prisoners all told," cried Ben. "Did you ever hear anything of my brother, Larry Russell?"
"Larry Russell?" repeated Barton Brownell, thoughtfully. "To be sure I did. He is a sailor from the Olympia, isn't he?"
"Yes! yes! And was he with you?"
"He was, at first. But he wasn't when I left. They moved some of the prisoners away, and he was among them. So he was your brother? That beats all, doesn't it—to think I should fall in with you in such a place as this!"
THE ADVANCE UPON MAASIN
Ben was much surprised and also delighted to learn that Barton Brownell had met Larry, and he lost no time in questioning the escaped soldier regarding his missing brother.
"Yes, your brother was with me about two weeks," said Barton Brownell. "He came up with a detachment of rebels from the Laguna de Bay, after General Lawton left that territory."
"And was he well, or had he been wounded?"
"He was suffering from a cut in the head. A Spaniard had kicked him—and, yes, he told me it was a Spaniard that you and he were after for having robbed a bank of some money."
"Benedicto Lupez!" ejaculated Ben, more astonished than ever.
"That's the name. Your brother had run across that man and his brother at Santa Cruz, and he was trying to make this Benedicto Lupez a prisoner, when the brother kicked him in the head, and then both of them ran away, and when your brother realized what was going on again he found himself a prisoner. He was taken to a camp near the north shore of the Laguna de Bay, and afterward transferred to the cave where I was held."
"I am thankful that he is alive," murmured the young captain, and breathed silent thanks to God for His mercy. "Do you know where they took Larry to?"
"I can't say exactly, but I know that a great many of the rebels are retreating to the mountains back of San Isidro. I wouldn't be surprised to hear of Aguinaldo making his final stand there."
"I would give all I am worth to gain my brother his liberty."
"And I reckon he would give all he is worth to escape," rejoined Brownell. "The boys hate to be kept prisoners, and try all sorts of devices to get away. One fellow had some gold hidden on his person and tried to bribe a guard with it. But the guard only laughed at him and stole the money."
"Of course you do not know what became of Benedicto Lupez and his brother."
"No, your brother knew nothing further than that they ran off after the assault on him," concluded Brownell.
The talking had somewhat exhausted the wounded man and Ben forbore to question him further just then. While Barton Brownell rested easily on some moss, the young captain turned to the commander of the first battalion.
"What shall we do next, major?"
"I think we had better be getting back," was the ready answer. "The sooner we report to the colonel the better he will be pleased."
"I feel like pushing right through to San Isidro, on a hunt for my brother."
"It would be a foolish movement, captain, for, unless I am greatly mistaken, the insurgents have a large force in front of us, and to attempt breaking through would be taking a big risk. Be thankful that your brother is safe thus far. As long as he remains quiet I don't think the rebels will harm him."
Ben could not but believe that this was good advice, and he agreed to do as the major thought best. It was now three o'clock in the morning, and half an hour later they started, thinking to rejoin their command before daylight.
It was an exhausting tramp, the more so because Brownell had to be assisted by one or the other for the entire distance.
"I'm a great drag," sighed the wounded soldier. "Perhaps you had better push on and let me shift for myself." But the major and the captain would not hear of this.
They had one little brush with two of the Filipino pickets before getting into the American lines, but the rebels were young men and not very courageous and let them slip by without great trouble.
It was Major Morris who made the report to the colonel, taking Ben and Brownell with him. Colonel Darcy was greatly interested.
"It is, then, as I supposed," he said. "This information will be of great value to us, Major Morris," and he thanked the major and Ben for what they had done. Brownell's report was also received with close consideration by General Lawton himself.
"If the prisoners have been taken to San Isidro, we must try our best to liberate them," said the general. "I am so glad to learn, though, that the rebels are not ill-treating them, as I had supposed."
It was Ben, assisted by Casey, who saw Brownell to the hospital and had the wounded soldier given every attention. When they parted, Brownell, although now so exhausted that he could scarcely speak, shook the young captain's hand warmly.
"I hope you find your brother soon," he said. "I can imagine how bad it makes you feel to know that he is a prisoner."
The advance of General Lawton's command was now directed at Maasin, a few miles beyond Baliuag. It was led by Colonel Summers, who took with him some Oregon, Dakota, and Third Infantry troops and a battery of the Utah Light Artillery, with other troops following, including Ben's battalion with Major Morris at its head. As before, the advance was along the main road and through the rice-fields, cane-brakes, and the jungle, with the air so oppressive that it felt as though coming out of a steaming oven.
"I dink me I vos right in it from der start, alretty!" exclaimed Carl Stummer, as he plodded along. "Dis vos vorse as der march on Malolos, eh, Tan?"
"Sure, an' it's no picnic," replied the Irish volunteer. "But thin, Carl, me b'y, ye must remimber, we didn't come out here fer fun. We kem out fer to show thim haythins how to behave thimselves an' grow up into useful an' ornamental citizens av the greatest republic that iver brathed th' breath av life."
"Chust so," returned the German volunteer. "But it vos uphill vork, ennahow," and he sighed deeply. Carl could fight as well as any old-time trooper, but the long tramps through the jungle always disgusted him.
There was the river to cross upon which the mill-house was located, and Ben could not help but wonder if the Spanish woman was still at the structure, and how the American deserters had fared. But the mill-house was too far away to visit, and now the battalion was ordered into action on the upper side of the stream.
"Gangway for General Lawton!" was the cry that reached Ben's ears a few minutes later, and then came a crashing of horses' hoofs, and the tall general rode through their open ranks, followed by several members of his staff. As was usual, the general was bound for the firing line, to personally direct the movements of the men under him. Many were the times that the members of his staff urged him not to make a target of himself. He would not listen; and in the end this daring exposure cost the gallant leader his life.
But now all was excitement, for a large force of rebels had been uncovered and there was no telling but what the jungle ahead concealed even more. "We are up against it, fellows!" shouted one of the sergeants. "Let us rush 'em for keeps!" And on swept the battalion, until the steady pop-pop of Mausers and the crack of the Springfields could be heard upon every side.
Ben's company was no longer as large as it had been, for death and disease had sadly depleted the ranks. Yet the forty-six men in the command were now thoroughly seasoned fighters, and all loved their young and dashing leader and would have followed him anywhere.
Presently an orderly dashed up to Major Morris.
"Major, Colonel Darcy wishes you to take your command up yonder hill. The rebels have a battery up there, as you can see. If you can rush the position, he will send another battalion to your support."
"Tell Colonel Darcy I will obey the order," answered Major Morris. Then he turned to the four companies. "Boys, we are ordered to take yonder hill and the two field-pieces perched on top of it. Come on, and I will lead you!"
He waved his sword and away went the first battalion on the double quick, two companies to the front. There was first a slight hollow to cross, and then came a thicket of brambles where many a uniform was reduced to rags. The battery at the top of the hill saw them coming and directed a heavy fire at their advance.
"Hot work!" cried the major, as he ranged up alongside of Ben. "I am afraid the carrying out of this order will cost us dear."
"If you'll allow me to make a suggestion, major—" began Ben.
"Make a dozen, captain."
"Why not take a course to the left then."
"For what reason?"
"There is a big rock on that side, on the very top of the hill."
"But we can't climb that rock."
"No, and neither can the rebels fire over it with their field-pieces. When we get up to the rock we can march around it."
"Well spoken, Russell—you're a born strategist," cried the major, who was too generous to have any ill feeling because somebody offered him a suggestion. "We'll go that way." And he immediately gave necessary orders.
But the advance was by no means easy, and soon the battalion found itself under such a galling fire that the men were glad enough to seek the shelter of every rock and bush which came handy. The battery could not do everything, and afraid of having his pieces taken from him, the captain had called upon several companies of the Filipinos to assist him in maintaining his position.
"Down!" suddenly shouted Gilbert Pennington, and down went the men, and the next instant a shell burst directly over their heads.
"This is hot and no mistake," murmured Ben. Then he turned to his command. "Forward, men, the sooner we take that position the better it will be for us." And up the hill he dashed, with Casey, Stummer, and the rest following as best they could, for the way was steep and uncertain. At last the very edge of the big rock was gained, and Company D poured around its left side, to find themselves suddenly confronted by a body of Tagalos fully a hundred strong. In the meantime the other companies under Major Morris were coming up on the opposite side of the rock. Ben was on the point of shouting some additional words of encouragement to his men, when he found himself face to face with a mighty Igorrote warrior, who with his long lance seemed determined to pierce the young captain through and through.
CAMPING OVER A POWDER MAGAZINE
It was the report of Ben's pistol, and the weapon was aimed directly for the Igorrote's head, for the young captain had learned the value of aiming and firing quickly.
But the Filipino "had been there before," and as the trigger went down he dropped to the ground with the rapidity of lightning, and the bullet intended for him struck a man some distance in the rear. Then up leaped the Igorrote once more and bounded onward, the lance point aimed directly for Ben's throat!
The young captain's pistol was now empty, the other shots having been discharged during the climb up the hill. His sword was out, but the lance was three times the length of the blade, so he was still at a disadvantage. Yet he aimed a blow at the barbed point and thus turned it aside.
"Ha!" hissed the Filipino, and drew back. Then he struck again at Ben, and instantly both slipped on the moist grass and fell directly into each other's clutches. The Igorrote was a powerful warrior, and grasped Ben's throat with the tightness of a steel band.
Ben tried to cry out, but not a sound could he make. His eyes bulged from their sockets, and he felt his breath leaving him. A second Igorrote leaped forward to hit him on the head with a war club, such as some of the Igorrote still insisted upon carrying. Of the use of rifles this tribe of the Filipinos knew little or nothing.
"Back, ye nager!" came in Dan Casey's voice, and there followed a sickening thud, and down went the enemy with the club, his head split open by a blow from the Irish volunteer's gun-stock. Casey then aimed a second blow at the rebel who had hold of Ben, but not wishing to receive such a dose as had been meted out to his companion, the other Igorrote sprang up, butted Casey in the stomach with his head, thus landing the Irishman on his back, and then ran for his life toward the nearest shelter of brush.
"Oh, be gracious! To look at that now!" spluttered the Irishman as he arose. "But I got wan av thim, anyhow, captain," he added, with a jerk of his thumb toward the Igorrote, who lay with a broken head.
"Yes, Casey; and you saved me, too," returned Ben, earnestly. "You are worth two ordinary men;" and then captain and private drifted apart, as the tide of battle rolled forward.
The top of the hill was gained, but for once the insurgents did not know when they were whipped, and held to their guns until more than half of their number were either killed or wounded. The contest raged to the right and the left of the battery, and this was fortunate, for seeing they could not hold the pieces, some of the rebels overcharged one of the guns and set it off, blowing it into a thousand pieces. Then the main body retreated into the jungle, carrying a few of their wounded with them.
By this time it was raining again, and the downpour on the top of the hill was so great that little could be seen of the condition of affairs at a distance. Sending word that the hill was taken and one old-fashioned Spanish field-piece captured, Major Morris rallied his battalion around him and stood on the defensive. But the rebels had had enough of fighting for the present, and once again took up the retreat in the direction of San Isidro.
"I reckon that was hot enough for anybody," said the major, as he stalked up to Ben and the other captains under him. "I wonder if anybody was killed by the explosion of that old cannon?"
"Nobody was killed, but several were wounded," answered one of the captains. "The rebel who charged her up and then fired her had lots of nerve," he added.
Word soon came back from General Lawton that the battalion should hold the hill until further orders. The situation was not a pleasant one, but orders must be obeyed, and the various companies proceeded to make themselves as comfortable as possible, which was not saying much, since the top of the hill afforded little or no shelter. One company was detailed to do picket duty, but a little scouting soon proved that the rebels were a mile or more distant.
When the main body of the troops under General Lawton marched into Maasin, they found the pretty little town all but deserted. In a few of the huts the inhabitants remained, having hung out dirty white rags to show that they were amigos. Here were also numerous "Chinos" or Chinese, some of mixed blood, and all ready to do anything for the American soldiers, provided they were paid for it. Natives and "Chinos" went about bared to the waist, casting fearful eyes at those who had so suddenly disturbed the peace of their homesteads, for the inhabitants of Maasin were peaceably inclined, and took but little interest in the war Aguinaldo and his followers had instituted.
"Well, we are one step nearer to San Isidro," remarked Gilbert, when he got the chance to talk to Ben. "I suppose we can't get there any too quick for you."
"I don't know, Gilbert. You must remember that while Larry may be near San Isidro now, he may be miles off when we reach there. These Filipinos change their capital and their prisons as quickly as a flea jumps."
"Never mind, we'll keep them on the jump until they drop," answered the young Southerner. "They can't stand up before us forever."
"To my way of thinking, I don't believe this war will come to definite end, Gilbert."
"What do you mean, Ben? They have got to stop sometime—or else we have got to stop."
"These Filipinos are not pulling together—on the contrary, they are split up into half a dozen factions. If we defeat one faction, the others will still keep on, and, besides that, the worst of the rebels are of Malayan blood, pirates and bandits. I believe after we have whipped them as an army they will still keep on fighting in small bodies, somewhat after the order of the brigands in Mexico and northern Africa. With the mountains to fly to, such brigands could keep on worrying an American army for years."
"Possibly; but when the main body of the natives see what we want to do for them, they'll be as anxious as we to wipe out such brigands, and with their own people after them, life will be pretty uncomfortable, I'll wager. To be sure, there will always be robbers, just as there are outlaws and train-wreckers in the western states of our own country."
Some of the men had found a small opening between the rocks, and over this had hung their tents, making a rude shelter which Ben and Gilbert were glad to share with them. In the crowd were Casey and Stummer, and the latter busied himself in trying to make a cup of hot chocolate over a handful of dry twigs found in the shelter. The attempt was hardly a success, yet the drink was better for the convalescent than either water or liquor would have been.
"Sure, an' if this shtorm kapes up, we'll all be dhrowned out," was Casey's comment, as he shifted his feet to keep them out of a rising puddle. "Now who would think the water would rise on the top av a hill. Things do be mighty peculiar in Luzon, an' that's a fact."
"Never mind, Casey, you'll get back home some day," put in another soldier. "And in years to come you'll be telling your grandchildren what a mighty fighter you were out in the state of Luzon, recently annexed to the United States, along with the state of Hawaii." And a laugh went up over the conceit.
"Sure an' you ton't haf nodding to grumble ofer of you ton't git shot," said Stummer.
"Or don't get taken down with disease," put in another. "My, but I pity the fellows with fever and chills and malaria, and the other things that are just as bad. I believe about one-fifth of the army is now on the sick list."
"Some of the boys are going to send a petition to General Otis for relief. They say they can't stand it much longer."
So the talk went on, both Ben and Gilbert saying but little. Presently Major Morris poked his nose into the opening.
"I think you boys had better come out of there," he said shortly.
"Why, major—" began several.
"Are we to advance?" asked others.
"No, we are not going to advance, unless it's skyward," continued the major. "Either come out of that, or else put out that fire, and be mighty careful about it."
"The fire ain't doing no harm," grumbled a private, under his breath.
"I don't believe the enemy can see the smoke in this rain," suggested another, thinking that this was the cause of their being disturbed.
"I'm not thinking of the enemy, boys, I'm thinking of you. Better come out, and then we'll put out that fire as carefully as we can."
Seeing that something unusual was in the wind, one after another of the officers and privates came forth from the hollow, Stummer giving the fire a kick as he passed. As soon as they were outside they surrounded the commander of the first battalion.
"Now, boys, do you know why I called you out?" asked Major Morris, with just the suspicion of a twinkle in his clear eyes.
"No, why was it?" came from a dozen voices.
"Because I wanted to save your lives," was the quiet response.
"Save our lives, major? You must be joking."
"No, I am not joking. We have just captured one of the rebel gunners, who was in command of the piece that was blown to atoms. He says that this hollow, where you had your camp-fire, was their powder magazine, and that they left all of a hundred and fifty pounds of powder stored there, hidden under the moss and dead leaves."
THE RESULT OF AN AMBUSH
"Good gracious, do you mean to say we have been camping over a powder magazine?" gasped Gilbert, as soon as he could speak.
"Sure, an' it's a wondher we wasn't all blowed to hivin!" came from Dan Casey.
"Und I boil mine chocolate so calmly as you blease," put in Carl Stummer, with a shudder. "Py chiminy, I ton't vos build no fire no more bis I vos sure of mine ground."
For several minutes the excitement was intense, and all of the soldiers retreated to a considerable distance from the hollow which had proved such a comfortable shelter.
Presently, however, Ben, Gilbert, and several others mustered up courage enough to go back and haul down the coverings put up. Then came another heavy downpour of rain, which speedily extinguished the fire; and the danger of an explosion was past.
An examination under the rocks proved that the Filipino gunner had told the truth. The powder was there, in big cans bearing the old Spanish stamp. Some was marked 1876, and was so old as to be practically worthless.
"They ought to have shot that off in honor of our centennial," remarked the young captain. "I don't wonder the rebels can't hit anything. This powder has no carrying power left to it."
Nevertheless the powder was carted off and added to the American stock. Then General Lawton rode up and Major Morris told in detail what had been accomplished.
With the fall of Maasin came another day of much-needed rest for the majority of the troops under General Lawton. In the meantime, while these soldiers were advancing from Angat upon San Isidro, the command under General MacArthur was far from idle. The Filipino commissioners wanted a three months' armistice, in order that the terms of a peace might be discussed, but to this the Americans would not listen, as they felt the enemy wished mainly to gain time in which to reorganize their shattered forces.
MacArthur's command was now in possession of Calumpit on the railroad, and Apalit, just above, on the Rio Grande; while the rebels in this territory began to mass at St. Tomas and at San Fernando, still further northward on the railroad. On May the 4th MacArthur's division set out from Apalit, with Hale's command on the right wing and Wheaton's on the left.
It was not supposed that the rebels would make a serious stand short of San Fernando, but at St. Tomas they were developed in force, and a running fight ensued, lasting several hours, but without great loss to the Americans. Finding they could not hold St. Tomas, the Filipinos set fire to the town and fled. They were pursued with vigor, and attempted to burn San Fernando late that night, but failed to do so.
Early in the morning the fighting was renewed, and near San Fernando another battle took place. But the rebels were disheartened by the defeat at St. Tomas, and were soon on the run, and General Hale drove them a mile beyond San Fernando. In taking possession of the town it was found that several of the public buildings were in ruins. The defensive works here were very strong, and had the Filipinos stood up to their work like real fighters, they might have held the position for a long time.
On Saturday, May the 6th, Ben's command moved forward again, down the hill into Maasin, now patrolled by Americans, and then to the main road beyond.
"I don't believe we are in for much of a fight to-day," remarked the young captain to Gilmore, who had now been appointed first lieutenant.
"I reckon you are right," answered Gilmore. "The scouts haven't found any rebels within a mile."
"It would almost seem as if we could march straight through to San Isidro," went on Ben, thoughtfully. "I must say I never heard of such a campaign."
"They say General Lawton puts it down as a regular Indian campaign. But then the rebels don't do much fighting in the dark."
"They are sick of it, Gilmore. I believe they would give up in a minute if the leaders were only assured that they would come out whole, as the saying goes."
"Well, they've gone too far to come out whole, captain. General Aguinaldo may mean well, but he never went at this thing right. He ought to know that he isn't dealing with some third-rate power."
On went the regiment, about four hundred and fifty strong now, for men were dropping out every day on account of fever and other tropical troubles. Ben had had a little fever himself, but had dosed himself with quinine before it had a chance to permeate his system and bring him down on his back.
The advance led the regiment along a small stream lined with fading flowers and wild plantains and the ever present thorns and trailing vines. Birds were numerous, and here and there a sporting soldier could not resist the temptation to bring one of the feathered tribe down, to be cooked at the next resting place. Once the regiment stirred up a flock of wild turkeys, and a charge was made to capture the prizes, a charge that was as enthusing as one on the rebels. Soldiers are but human and must have their fun, no matter under what difficulties.
"It's a fine turkey dinner we'll be afther havin' to-day," remarked Dan Casey, as he hung one of the birds over his shoulder. He had scarcely spoken, when pop-pop went several Mausers in a thicket beyond, the bullets singing their strange tune in the leaves over the advancers' heads.
"Forward!" shouted Major Morris, who was in temporary command of the regiment, and away they went once more, to suddenly find themselves on spongy soil which speedily let them down to their ankles. In the meantime the insurgents' fire became thicker than ever, and it looked as if they were caught in an ambush.
"Fire at will!" came the order. "To the left, boys, and make every shot tell!"
A roar of musketry drowned out the words, and immediately Ben's company found itself all but surrounded. To go into this quagmire had certainly been a grave error, but all leaders make mistakes sometimes; and Major Morris was suffering as greatly as his men.
The next half hour was one Ben never forgot. The rebels evidently thought they had the Americans at their mercy and pushed in closer and closer, until more than half of the contestants were fighting hand to hand. Many had exhausted their ammunition, and were using their bayonets or else handling their guns as clubs.
"Die!" cried one tall Tagal, as he flashed up before Ben with a bloody bolo. "Die!" he repeated in bad English, and made a lunge at the young captain. But Gilmore had his eye on the man, and the lieutenant's sword cut the bolo from the rebel's grasp.
"Good for you!" cried Ben. Then he drew a long breath, to think of the narrow escape he had had. The native, his hand flowing with blood, retreated as suddenly as he had approached.
The tide of the battle was now taking Americans and insurgents toward a cane-brake. The rebels still fought desperately, but they were beginning to lose confidence, for the Americans were pushing them hard.
But now came a cheer from the rear, and Company B rushed up to the aid of Ben's command. To the young captain's astonishment, Gilbert was in command, all the upper officers being either killed or wounded.
"Gilbert!" he called, but had no time to say more. But the young Southerner heard and waved the sword he had picked up. Soon the two companies were fighting shoulder to shoulder, and the enemy were driven out into the cane-field, and then into a meadow. Here they tried to make a stand, around an old rice-house, and it took another half hour to dislodge them. But when they did retreat at last, they went in great haste, many leaving their weapons and outfits behind them.
The fighting over, Ben started to find the major. Gilbert accompanied him. Their first hunt for the commander, however, was unsuccessful.
"It's queer," was Ben's comment. "I trust he isn't dead in the bushes."
The hunt gradually brought them to a trail through the jungle, and presently Gilbert heard a faint moan for help. Running in the direction, they found a soldier of Company C lying on some moss, his knee shattered from a Mauser bullet.
"Oh, the pain!" groaned the poor fellow. "Help me, won't you?"
"We'll do all we can for you," answered Ben, and while he went to work, Gilbert ran back to bring up the hospital corps with a stretcher.
"You want to go after Major Morris," said the wounded soldier, as soon as he felt comfortable enough to talk.
"We are looking for Major Morris," replied Ben, much astonished. "Where is he?"
"He was knocked over by one of the Dagos, and then three of 'em carried him away."
This was certainly news, and Ben waited impatiently for Gilbert to get back. As soon as the young Southerner returned, both asked the wounded soldier in what direction the captured major had been taken.
"They went through the cane-brake," was the answer. "You'll find the trail easily enough, I think, if you look for it. One of the rebs wore boots with high heels, so you can't miss 'em."
The wounded man did his best to point out the right direction, and was then taken back to the hospital tent. Without delay Ben called Ralph Sorrel and half a dozen others to his aid.
"We must go after Major Morris, and at once," he said. "Are you ready to undertake the work? It may be a dangerous proceeding."
"We're with yer, cap'n," answered Sorrel, and his sentiment was that of all of the others.
The trail into the cane-brake was followed without much difficulty, and the party of eight advanced as rapidly as the nature of the ground permitted. The storm had cleared off the night before, and the sun shone down hotly, making the air in the brake suffocating.
"This yere is a putty big cane-brake, an' no error," remarked Sorrel, after a quarter of a mile had been covered. "Cap'n, it won't do fer us to turn ourselves about an' git lost."
"We'll stick to the one trail," answered Ben. "As yet I've seen no side trails, although I've been watching every foot of the ground that we crossed."
"Nor I, cap'n,—an' don't wan't to, neither," added the tall mountaineer.
A little further on was a clearing, in the centre of which stood a small cane-house. Halting on the edge of the opening, they beheld several Filipinos on guard outside the house. In the doorway, with his back to the opening, stood Major Morris, his hands bound behind him.
THE TORNADO IN THE CANE-BRAKE
"I reckon we have got 'em tight, cap'n," came from Sorrel, as the party of Americans came to a halt and surveyed the scene before them.
"It depends upon how many of them there are," answered Ben. "Sorrel, supposing you skirt the clearing and try to count noses."
The Tennesseean was willing, and started off, taking Gilbert with him. He was gone probably ten minutes.
"Not more than ten at the most," he reported. "And of that number two are wounded and have their arms in slings."
"Any other prisoners besides Major Morris?"
"Not that we could see," came from Gilbert. "We could rush them easily enough if it wasn't for the major," he added.
"We don't want any harm to befall Major Morris," said Ben, thoughtfully. "If we— The rebels have discovered us, look out!"
Ben had scarcely finished when a report rang out and a bullet whizzed over their heads. One of the soldiers outside of the cane-house had seen two of the Americans and had fired upon them.
The discharge of the firearm caused Major Morris to turn around, and as he did so Ben waved his cap at his commander, and was recognized. Then two of the insurgents hurried the major out of sight.
The Americans were not slow to return the fire; and, although nobody was struck, the insurgents lost no time in disappearing from view. A lull followed, as both sides tried to determine what was best to be done next.
"Here comes a flag of truce," said Gilbert, presently, as a rebel appeared, holding up a white rag. "If I were you, I wouldn't honor it."
"I would like to hear what they have to say," replied Ben, quietly.
"But remember how they fired on the other flag of truce," insisted the young Southerner. "You'll be running your head into a lion's mouth."
"Sorrel, keep that man covered," said Ben. "I won't move out any further than he does."
"If you go, I'll go with you," said Gilbert, promptly.
He would not be put off, and together Ben and he moved into the opening, Ben holding up a new handkerchief as he walked. The rebel at once halted, as if expecting them to come over to where he stood.
"You come over here!" cried Gilbert, and waved his hand.
There was a full minute's delay, and then of a sudden the rebel threw down his white flag and sped toward the house. At the same time three reports rang out, and Gilbert fell back, struck in the shoulder.
"What did I tell you!" he gasped. "They are treacherous to the last degree!" And then the young Southerner fainted.
As just mentioned, three reports had rung out, but only two had come from the house. The third came from Ralph Sorrel's weapon, and the man who had carried the pretended flag of truce fell dead in his tracks.
The dastardly attack angered Ben beyond endurance, and leaving Gilbert resting comfortably on some cut cane, he leaped to the front. "Come, boys, we will root them out!" he cried, and ran on toward the house as fast as he could, firing as he went. Sorrel was at his heels, and the others fired, each "red-hot" as they afterward expressed it.
The insurgents saw them coming and fired several shots, but nobody was struck, and in a trice the house was surrounded. Then Major Morris came bounding through a window, and it was Ben who cut his bonds with a pocket-knife.
"I saw it all," exclaimed the major. "Go for them, men, every one of the rascals deserves death!" And stooping over the dead rebel, he took from his bosom a bolo and joined in the attack. "They are a pack of cowards—a mere set of camp followers."
The major was right; the rebels in the house were no regularly organized body, and at the first sign of real peril they fled by the back way, over a ditch and straight for the nearest jungle. But our friends were determined that they should not escape thus easily, and pursued them for nearly half a mile, killing one more and wounding three others. Long afterward they learned that those who had thus forfeited their lives were bandits from the mountains back of San Isidro. They had joined the forces under General Aguinaldo, merely for the booty to be picked up in the towns through which the rebel army passed.
As soon as the contest had come to an end, Ben hurried back to where he had left Gilbert. The wound from which the young Southerner was suffering was painful, but not dangerous. Yet it was likely to put Gilbert in the hospital for the best part of a month.
"It's too bad—I thought I could see the thing through to the end," said Gilbert, shaking his head dolefully.
"You'll have to take your dose as I did," answered Ben. "I am glad it is not serious. Our regiment couldn't afford to lose such a brave fellow as you."
"Brave? Didn't I hang back until you proposed to go out alone, Ben? If anybody was brave, it was you," and then Gilbert turned his face away to conceal the pain that was coming on.
The hospital corps was so busy that Gilbert could not be carried back of the firing line for some time. Feeling that there would be no more fighting that day, Ben decided to remain by his old chum, and requested Sorrel to do likewise, leaving the others to accompany Major Morris back to the command proper. In the meantime, a skirmish line was stretched to the north of the cane-brake, that the insurgents might not regain any of the lost territory.
It was frightfully hot, but scarcely had Major Morris left with his party than a faint breeze sprang up which gradually increased to a fair-sized wind. Making Gilbert as comfortable as possible under some of the tallest of the cane, Ben and Sorrel sat down beside him to do what they could to help him forget his pain.
The three had been sitting in the shade for the best part of half an hour, and Sorrel was sharpening his knife on the side leather of his shoe, when, glancing up, Ben noticed a peculiar cloud in the sky overhead.
"That looks rather queer," he remarked. "Does that denote a wind-storm, Sorrel?"
"It denotes something, that's sartin," responded the mountaineer, surveying the cloud with care. "It's something I ain't seed out yere yit," and he leaped to his feet.
The cloud was about as large as a barrel in appearance, and of a deep black color. It seemed to be whirling around and around, and as it came forward began to expand. Then it shot off to the southward, but not out of sight.
"I'm glad it's gone," said Gilbert, who had roused up to watch the strange thing. "I don't want to get caught in a western cyclone—and that cloud looks like those I have heard described."
"The rainy season is coming on here, and I presume we are bound to have more or less tornadoes," answered Ben. "They say that last year they were something awful along the seacoast."
The cloud was circling around the southern horizon, but now it turned once again and came slowly toward them. While it was yet quarter of a mile away, it shot down to earth and a strange humming sound reached their ears, followed by a whistling that caused each of them to shiver.
"It's a whirlwind!" yelled Sorrel. "Come into yonder hollow, cap'n!" and he caught hold of Gilbert and lifted him up. The hollow he mentioned was less than fifty feet away, yet to reach it in time was almost impossible, so swiftly did the tornado approach them. The air became black as night and was filled with cane, grass, and branches of trees. It struck the house in the clearing, and with a single mighty crash the structure went up into the air, to fall with another crash a hundred yards beyond.
Running with the tall Tennesseean, Ben pitched into the hollow just as the first of the tornado hurled itself at them. Down came the mountaineer, but taking good care that Gilbert should not be hurt by his quick leap. Then all fell flat, with their faces to earth.
It was like some horrible nightmare to Ben,—the whistling wind and the strange humming, the blackness, and the whirling cane and tree limbs. In some places the ground was furrowed up as by a plough, and down on their heads came dirt and grass, and then a shower of stalks that buried them completely. And still the wind kept up, in a madder gallop than ever. Ben felt as if every moment was going to be his last.
The time was an age; yet by the watch it was not yet five minutes when the tornado had departed, leaving its track of ruin behind. But still the party of three under the cane-stalks lay still, wondering if it was safe to get up.
"Do yer calkerlate it's over, cap'n?" came from Sorrel, after a painful pause.
"It appears to be, but there is no telling what such a thing will do next," answered the young captain, as he pressed on the stalks over him, and got up. "Gilbert, are you hurt?"
"No," came with a gasp. "But, Ben, that was—was a terror, wasn't it?"
"It was, Gilbert, and something I never want to witness again."
By this time Sorrel was also on his feet and hauling Gilbert into daylight. The cloud was gone, and the sun shone as brightly as ever. But at a great distance they saw the tornado sweeping up into the mountains.
"We are well out of it," was Ben's comment, as they watched the cloud until it was out of sight. "That played sad havoc here. I wonder what it will do in the mountains?"
No one could answer that question, and no one tried. Ben would have been very much surprised had anybody told him that the same tornado which had visited him was also to visit his brother Larry. But so it proved, as we shall speedily see.
THE FLIGHT FOR LIBERTY
"Well, this is getting too monotonous for anything."
It was Larry who spoke, and he sat on the stump of a tree at the mouth of a wide cave, gazing disconsolately at a fire which several insurgents were trying to build.
The place was on the top of a high hill, backed up by still higher mountains. On every hand were sharp rocks and trees, with a tangle of thorns. Small wonder, then, that Aguinaldo and his cohorts considered these fastnesses inaccessible for American troops. No regular body could have gotten to such a place, and to forward supplies hither was totally out of the question.
The rebels numbered fifteen, all mountaineers and strong. At General Luna's request they had brought ten prisoners to the spot, and the other prisoners were to come up some time later. Why the Filipinos thus divided the men they had taken is not definitely known, yet divided they were, until some escaped and others died or were given up.
Since Larry had been captured he had passed through half a dozen different hands. It must be said he had been treated fairly well, better, perhaps, than many of my readers may suppose. To be sure, his clothing was in rags and his shoes were almost minus their soles, but in these respects he was no worse off than those who kept him captive. Then, too, the food given him was very plain, but the rebels ate the same, and to complain, therefore, would have been worse than useless.
Larry had missed Barton Brownell, for the pair had been fairly friendly, as we know. With the transferal to new quarters the young sailor had struck up an acquaintanceship with Dan Leroy, one of the Yorktown's men, also a prisoner. A number of the sailors from the Yorktown—in fact, a boatload, had been captured, but Leroy had become separated from his messmates at the very start.
"Yes, it is monotonous, lad," said Leroy, who was resting at Larry's feet. "But, as I've said a hundred times afore, we can't help ourselves, consequently, make the best on it. Ain't that sound argyment, lad?"
"I reckon so, Leroy, but—but—"
"When ye git as old as I am you'll see things in a different light. We can't complain o' the treatment here, lad."
"But I would like to know how the war is going, and if my brother knows I am alive."
"Reckon the war is goin' agin the Tagals, or they wouldn't be a-pushing back into the mountains like this."
"It's a wonder they don't try to exchange us."
At this Dan Leroy smiled grimly. "Might be as how they consider us too vallyble," he suggested. He was a short, stout fellow, much given to joking, and rarely out of good humor.
It was about the middle of the afternoon, and from a long distance came the sounds of firing. But the booming came from big field-pieces, so Larry knew it must be far away, and so it gave him small hope.
The rebels had just brought in some fresh meat, procured from the town at the foot of the long hill, and they speedily proceeded to make a beef stew with rice and yams. The smell was appetizing, and as nobody had had a square meal that day, Larry brightened over the prospect.
The cave in the hillside was irregular in shape, running back to a series of openings which nobody had ever yet explored. In this cave the insurgents kept some of their supplies, brought up from San Fernando, San Isidro, and other places. It was a fact that Aguinaldo hardly knew where to "jump" next.
Before nightfall the dinner was ready, and the chief of the rebels had the prisoners supplied with bowls of the stew. "Eat all of eet," he said, with a grin. "For maybe no geet such t'ings to-morrow."
"Thanks, we'll fill up then," responded Larry, and set to with a will, as did all the other prisoners.
The captives were unarmed, and though the rebels watched them, they were allowed more or less of the freedom of the camp. Finishing his bowl of stew, Larry leaned over to where Leroy sat.
"Leroy, if we can manage to get a kettle of that stew, I'll be for trying to get away to-night," he whispered.
"And how are ye going to get it, lad?" asked the sailor.
"Wait and you will see," was the answer, and Larry arose and sauntered over toward the fire.
"I spilt some of the stew on the ground," he said, which was true, although the amount had not been large. "Can I have more?"
"Yes, take what you will," returned the insurgent chief, who felt in good humor, through having obtained a leave of absence, to start on the morning following. "And give some to your friends. We'll fill up for once."
"Thank you," answered Larry, and hurried to the other prisoners with the big pot from over the fire. The prisoners had a large tin kettle for water, fitted with a cover so that bugs might be kept out, and this he filled to the brim, and also gave the others all they wished.
"Going to eat all of that?" queried one of the men, with a short laugh.
"Sometime—not now," answered Larry. Then he took the pot back to the fire and carried his bowl and the kettle into the cave. At once Leroy followed him.
"And now, what's this nonsense you're talkin' about running away?" demanded the Yorktown sailor, as soon as they were alone.
"I'm going to try my luck to-night, Leroy. If you don't want to go, you can stay with the others."
"But how are you going? There's a guard around the foot of the hill, and they will shoot you on sight."
"I'm not going to try the foot of the hill—at least, not this side of it."
"Well, you can't get to the other, for that cliff over this cave is in the way."
"I'm going to explore the caves back of this. They must lead to somewhere."
The old sailor shook his head. "More'n likely they lead to the bowels of the earth. You'll fall into some pitfall, and that will be the end of you."
"I'll light a torch as soon as I am out of sight of this place, and I'll be very careful where I step."
"This cave may be as big as the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky. You'll get lost in one of the chambers and never find your way out."
"I'll have to risk that. But I'm bound to try it—if they give me the chance."
"You're foolish. Why, confound it, I've half of a mind to report the scheme."
"Oh, Leroy, surely you won't do that."
"I mean just to save you from yourself, Larry."
"I don't intend to remain a prisoner until I am baldheaded, Leroy. I'm going to try to escape—and that's the end of it."
"Will you take any of the others along?"
"If they want to go."
"There won't a soul go—and I know it," responded the stout sailor, in positive tones.
When the other prisoners came in, he told them of Larry's plan. One and all of them agreed it was foolhardy.
"I don't believe there is any opening," said one. "Or if there is, it's so high up in the mountains that you'll never reach it."
"And what are you going to do for eating? That kettle of stew won't last forever," said another.
So the talk ran on, but the more he was opposed, the more headstrong did Larry become—and that, as old readers know, was very much like him.
"I shall go, and good-bye to all of you," he said, in conclusion. And then he shook hands with one after another, Leroy last of all. The Yorktown's man was trembling.
"I hate ter see ye do it, lad," he said. "It seems like going to death, but—but—hang it, I'll go along, so there!"
"But you needn't if you don't wish to," protested the youth. "I am not afraid to go alone."
"But I am a-going, and we'll sink or swim together, Larry. Who else goes?"
Dan Leroy, looked from one face to the next. But not another prisoner spoke, for each had taken a short walk to the rear caves and seen quite enough of them. Then a guard came in, and the strange meeting broke up immediately.
The prisoners lay down to rest, but not one of them could go to sleep. All of the others were waiting for Larry and Leroy's departure. At last, satisfied that all was right for the night, the guard went outside, to join several of his companions around the camp-fire.
"Now, then," whispered Larry, and arose, to be followed immediately by Dan Leroy. The kettle secured, they hurried for the rear of the outer cave, without so much as looking at the others, who raised up to watch their shadowy disappearance.
The flight for liberty had begun. Would it succeed or fail?
THE CAVES UNDER THE MOUNTAIN
For a distance of five hundred feet the way was known to both Larry and his sailor friend, and the pair passed along swiftly, guided in part by the flickering rays from the camp-fire outside of the main cave.
"Have a care now, lad," whispered Leroy, as they reached a narrow passage, which turned first to the left and then upward. "The roof is low, and you don't want for to dash your brains out on the rocks."
"Never fear but I'll be as careful as I can," responded the youth, feeling his way along. "Better keep close, Leroy, that we don't become separated."
The turn made, it was no easy matter to ascend the sloping floor, with here and there a rough bowlder to cross, or a hollow in which one might fall and break a leg without half trying, as the Yorktown sailor said. Presently Leroy called a halt.
"Better light the torch now, Larry."
"I was going to save it," was the reply. "There is no telling how long we may have to depend upon it."
"That is true; but it's no longer safe to walk in this pitchy darkness."
Leroy was provided with matches, used in smoking his pipe, which had not been denied him, and striking one he set fire to an end of the dry cedar branch which Larry had laid away over a week before, when the thought of running away had first crossed his mind. At the start the branch spluttered wofully and threatened to go out, but by coaxing it remained lit, and presently burst into a flame that was sufficient to see by for a circle of twenty or thirty feet.
On they plodded, up an incline that seemed to have no end, and then around another turn. Here the chamber widened out, and beyond there were branches, two to the left and one to the right.
"This is as far as I've ever been," said the boy. "The passages beyond seemed to lead downward for part of the way, and it's impossible to judge which is the best to take. But I was of a mind to try that one on the right."
"Well, I reckon as how the right ought to be right," laughed Leroy. "If it ain't, all we can do is to come back to here an' try over again, eh?"
"We haven't got time to waste in experimenting, Leroy. This is a serious business. We are liable now to be shot on sight."
"An' nobody knows thet better nor Dan Leroy, your humble servant. An' if you say try one o' the other passages, I'm jes' as willin'."
"No, we'll take that on the right," returned the youth, and started onward without further delay.
The passage was a crooked one, not over ten feet wide in any one part, and but little over the height of a man. At one place a great rock blocked the way, and over this they went on their hands and knees.
"Kind o' a tight squeeze," remarked Leroy. "If that rock war a bit bigger, we wouldn't be able to git over it at all."
"Hark!" cried Larry, coming to a halt. "What is that, somebody calling?"
They listened, and from a distance ahead made out a low murmur of some kind. "It's water running over the rocks," cried Leroy. "I hope it's a river leading to the outer world."
"Oh, so do I!" ejaculated the boy, and both started onward eagerly. Long before the fall of water was gained they found themselves splashing in an underground stream up to their ankles. The waterfall was underground, coming from the rocks overhead and running into the stream, which, in turn, sank out of sight some distance further on.
"Nothing in that," muttered Leroy, his face falling.
Nevertheless, they stopped for a drink, for the tramp through the caves had made them thirsty. The old sailor held the torch, while Larry carried the kettle. It was well that the top of the kettle was on tight, otherwise the contents would have been spilled long before this.
Beyond the waterfall the cave opened out once more in fan shape, the roof running upward to a high arch, from which hung stupendous stalactites of white and brown. Here the water dripped down in the form of a fine rain.
"We're in a shower, lad, even though we are underground," remarked Leroy. "I must say I hope this don't last. If it does, we'll soon be wet to the skin." The vaulted cave soon came to an end, however, and now they found themselves in an opening cut up into a hundred different chambers, like a coal mine supported by arches. Each looked at the other in perplexity.
"We can easily miss the way here," said Larry, soberly. "We had better lay out a course and stick to it."
"Right you are, lad." Leroy pointed with his hand. "This seems as good a trail as any. Shall we follow it?"
"Yes." And forward it was again. Presently they came to another chamber, and here the slope was again upward, much to their satisfaction. "If we keep on going upward, we are bound to get out at the top, sometime," was the way Larry calculated.
Climbing now became difficult, and in a number of places each had to help the other along. Then came a wall twelve feet high, and here they were compelled to halt.
"It looks as if we were blocked," remarked the Yorktown sailor after an examination.
"I'm not going to give up yet," answered the boy. "If we can't get up any other way, we can build a stairs with those loose stones we just passed."
"Hurrah! you've solved the difficulty!" exclaimed the old sailor, and they set to work with a will. But rolling and lifting the stones into place was no mean job, and when at last they were able to pull themselves to the passageway above, both were utterly worn out and glad enough to sit down. The rest lasted longer than either had intended, for Leroy, who had not slept well the night before, dozed off, and Larry was not of a heart to wake him up. So the boy went to sleep too, and neither awakened until early morning.
"Hullo! what's this?" cried Leroy, the first to open his eyes. All was so dark about him—Larry having extinguished the torch—that for the minute he could not collect his senses. Putting out his hand he touched the youth on the face, and Larry awoke instantly.
They were both hungry, and lighting the torch again, warmed up the kettle of stew, and then ate about one-third of the stuff. "Touches the spot," cried Leroy, smacking his lips. He could have eaten much more, but knew it was best to be careful of their supply until the outer world was gained.
Much refreshed by their sleep, but somewhat stiff from the dampness and the unaccustomed work of the evening before, they proceed on their way, still climbing upward and still in a darkness, that was only partly dispelled by the feeble glare of the torch, which was now growing alarmingly small.
"The light won't last more than a couple o' hours," said Leroy. "Perhaps we had better split the stick in two." This was done, and thus the feeble light was reduced one-half.
Would the caves never come to an end? Such was the question Larry asked himself over and over again. Was it possible that they were to journey so far only to find themselves trapped at last? The thought made him shiver, and he pushed on faster than ever.
"Do you know what I think?" said Leroy, an hour later. "I think we are moving around in a circle?"
"Ay, lad. Don't you notice how the passageway keeps turning to the right?"
Larry had noticed it. "But we are going upward," he said.
"True; but who knows but what we'll be going downward presently."
Still they kept on, but now Larry's heart began to fail him. They had progressed so far, had made so many turns, that to get back would probably be impossible. The caves were so vast one might wander about in them forever—if one's food did not give out. Larry shivered again and clutched the precious kettle of stew tighter than ever. He was once more hungry, but resolved to wait until the pangs of hunger increased before reducing the stock of food.
The passageway was now level for a considerable distance, with here and there a rock to be climbed over or a crack to cross. Both had just made a leap over an opening several feet wide when Leroy set up a shout.
"What is it?" asked Larry, eagerly.
"Put the torch behind ye, lad, an' look ahead. Perhaps my eyes deceive me," answered the old sailor.
Larry did as requested, and gave a searching look up the passageway. No, there was no mistaking it—there was a faint glimmer of light coming from what appeared to be a bend. He, too, gave a shout, and both set off on a run.
As they sped onward the light became brighter and brighter, until the torch was hardly needed. They were running side by side, each trying to gain the outer air first.
"Look out!" suddenly yelled Leroy, and caught Larry by the arm. The old sailor could hardly stop, and had to throw himself flat, dragging the boy down on top of him.
A few feet beyond was an opening twelve to fifteen feet wide, running from side to side of the passageway. The walls of the opening were perpendicular, and the hole was so deep that when a stone was dropped into it they could scarcely hear the thing strike bottom.
"Here's a how-d'ye-do!" cried Leroy, gazing into the pit. "We can't jump across that, nohow!"
"A real good jumper might," answered Larry. "But I shouldn't want to try it. The other side seems to slope down toward the hole. What's to be done?"
Ah, that was the question. It looked as if their advance in that direction was cut off completely.
BOXER THE SCOUT
Much chagrined, man and boy stood on the brink of the chasm before them and gazed at the other side. It was sloping, as Larry had said, and wet, which was worse. A jump, even for a trained athlete, would have been perilous in the extreme.
"Looks like we were stumped," remarked Leroy, laconically.
"And just as we were so near to yonder opening!" cried Larry, vexed beyond endurance. "If we only had a plank, or something."
He looked around, but nothing was at hand but the bare stone walls, with here and there a patch of dirt and a loose stone. He walked to one end of the hole.
"A fellow might climb along yonder shelf if he were a cat," he said dismally. "But I don't believe a human being could do it."
"No, and don't you go for to try it," put in the old sailor. "If you do, you'll break your neck, sure as guns is guns."
"Well, we've got to do something, Leroy."
"So we have; an' I move we sit down an' eat a bite o' the stew. Maybe eatin' will put some new ideas into our heads."
"I'd rather wait until we gain the open air."
"But we can't make it—yet—so be content, lad. It's something to know thet the blue sky is beyond."
They sat down, and soon finished one-half of what remained of the mess in the kettle. Never had anything tasted sweeter, and it was only by the exercise of the greatest self-control that they kept back a portion of the food.
"Perhaps we'll have to go back, remember that," said Leroy, as he put the cover on the kettle once more.
"Go back? No, no, Leroy! I'll try jumping over first."
"I don't think I shall. Thet hole— What's that?"
A sound had reached the old sailor's ears, coming from some distance ahead. It was the sound of footsteps approaching.
"Somebody is coming!" whispered Larry, and crouched down. Then a man put in an appearance, coming from the opposite end of the passageway. He was an American soldier, hatless and almost in tatters.
"Hullo there!" cried Larry, leaping up. "Oh, but I'm glad you came!"
At the cry the soldier stopped short in amazement. Larry's words echoed and reechoed throughout the passage. He looked toward the pair at the chasm, but could make out little saving the torch which Leroy was holding.
"Who calls?" he asked at last.
"I called," answered the boy. "Can't you see us? We are two lost sailors, and we can't get over this beastly hole. Come this way, but be careful of where you step."
"You must be Americans by your voices. Am I right?"
"Yes; and you are an American, too," said Larry, as the soldier came closer. Soon he stood facing them, with a look of wonder on his bronzed features.
"How did you get here?" he demanded.
"It's a long story," answered Leroy. "We escaped from some rebels at the other end of this cave, and we've been wandering around since last night. Are you alone, or are our forces outside of this hole?"
"General Lawton's troops are a good many miles from here," answered the soldier. "I am one of his scouts, and I became separated from our command and got up here to escape being hunted down by the crowd of Filipinos that was after me. They are in the woods just outside of this hole."
"Then you are all alone?" said Larry, his face falling a little.
"Yes, although I think a couple of our men must be in this vicinity. We are pressing the rebels pretty hard, you know."
The scout's name was George Boxer, and he was one of the best marksmen in Chief Young's command. He listened to their story with interest, and at once agreed to do what he could for them. They noted with satisfaction that he was provided with both a rifle and a pistol, and also a belt well filled with ammunition.
It was an easy matter for Boxer to make his way into the open air and find a fallen tree limb of sufficient thickness to throw over the chasm as a make-shift bridge. As soon as the limb was secure, Larry and Leroy came over, and then the party of three made their way to the mouth of the cave.
It was a welcome sight to see the sky again and the sunshine, and Larry's eyes sparkled as he gazed down the mountain-side and at the vast panorama spread out before him. At their feet was a heavy jungle, and beyond a plain and a small hill, where a large body of insurgents were encamping.
"It's good to be in the fresh air again, eh, lad?" observed Leroy. "But I'm afraid we'll have a good bit o' trouble gettin' past them rebels," he added to George Boxer.
"We can't get past them in the daytime," answered the scout; "but I think we can make it after the sun goes down. And it will take us till sundown to get to the bottom of this mountain, if I am not mistaken."
Now they were in the open, it was decided to discard the kettle; and the three ate up what remained of the stew, along with the single ration which Boxer carried. Then they began the descent of the mountain-side, slipping over rocks and dirt as best they could, and finding their way around many an ugly pitfall.
"I suppose you think it's queer I came up so far," said Boxer, as they hurried downward. "The truth is I was so closely pursued I didn't realize how far I was going. Those rebels can climb the mountains like so many wildcats. I'm afraid we'll never clean them out if they take a stand up here."
It was hot, and now Leroy gazed from time to time at the sky. "A storm or something is coming," he said.
"Yes, something is coming," added Boxer. "I can tell it by the way the birds are flying about. They seem to be troubled."
"I see a cloud away off to the southward," put in Larry. "It's not large, but it's mighty black."
No more was said just then upon the subject; and they continued their journey down the mountain-side until they came to a fair-sized stream, where they quenched their thirst and took a wash. They were about to go on again when Boxer held up his hand as a warning.
"Great gophers, boys, we are running right into a nest of the rebels!" he whispered. "Back with you, before it is too late."
They looked ahead and saw that the scout was right. They started to go back; and as they turned, a Mauser rang out and a bullet clipped the bushes beside them.
"Discovered!" came from Leroy's lips. "Larry, I'm afraid the jig is up. Those Filipi—"
Crack! It was Boxer's rifle that rang out, and as the scout was a sharpshooter, it may be taken for granted that he brought down his man. Then the three set off on a run along the side of the mountain to where a slight rise of ground promised better hiding.
"We can't do much against such a crowd," said the scout. "But in a good spot we can hold out awhile, provided one of you can use my pistol."
"I can fire tolerably straight," answered Leroy, and took the weapon. Soon the rise was gained, and they plunged in behind a tangle of pines. The Filipinos were following them, although taking good care not to expose themselves needlessly to the fire of such a crack marksman as Boxer had proved himself to be.
From behind the tangle of growth, the three Americans watched the skilful advance of the enemy with dismay. "They are trying to surround us!" whispered Boxer. Then like a flash his rifle went up. The report was followed by a yell of pain, and a Filipino fell into view from behind a tree less than fifty yards distant. The poor fellow was hit in the side, but managed to crawl back into cover again, groaning dismally.
Leroy also fired, a second later, aiming at a tall Tagal who was crossing a clearing to their left. If he hit his mark, the rebel gave no sign, but the man disappeared in a great hurry. Then came a crashing through the bushes below and to the left, proving that the Filipinos were massing in those directions.
"Perhaps we had better try to crawl away from this—" began Larry, when a humming sound caught his ear. At the same time the sky grew black.
"Look! look!" yelled Leroy. "What is this—the end of the world?"
All looked up. The humming had increased to a whistle, and now came a crashing of trees and brush mingled with the wild cries of the Filipinos as they rushed away toward a near-by mountain stream. They knew what was coming, even if our friends did not.
And then the tornado was almost upon them. I say almost, for, thanks to an all-ruling Providence, it did not strike them fairly, but rushed to one side, where the Filipinos had been gathering. The light of day seemed to die out utterly, and the air was filled with flying debris and screaming birds and wild animals made homeless on the instant. The very earth seemed to quake with the violence of the trees uprooted, and branches and dirt flew all over the Americans, until they were buried as completely as Ben and his companions had been. Larry thought it was indeed the end of the world, and breathed a silent prayer that God might watch over him and those he loved.
At last the rushing wind ceased, and the crashing was lost in the distance. But the birds kept up their wild cries, and for several seconds neither Larry nor those with him moved, wondering if that was the end of the tornado, or if worse was to follow. But it was the end, and gradually they came forth one after another, to gaze on the mighty wreckage about them. It was Leroy who raised his hand solemnly to heaven.
"I thank God that we have been spared," he said, and Larry and the scout uttered an amen.
Whether or not to leave the vicinity was a question. At last, seeing no more of the enemy, they plucked up courage enough to move down the mountain-side once more. But the tornado had made the passage more difficult than ever, and several times they had to turn back. Nightfall found them still some distance from the plain, with yet another jungle to pass before the open would be gained.
"We might as well make a night of it here," said Boxer, and footsore and weary Larry and Leroy agreed with him. It was not long before all dropped asleep, too tired to stand guard, and hardly deeming that one was necessary.
The tornado had killed numerous birds and small animals, and it was easy to pick up a plentiful breakfast.
"I don't know about making a fire," said Leroy. "Those rebels may spot us before we are aware."
Yet they were too hungry to go without eating, and in the end they built a fire of the driest wood they could find, and while Boxer cooked the birds, Larry and the old sailor scattered the smoke with their jackets, so that it might not go up in a cloud, and also kept their eyes open for the possible appearance of the rebels. But the tornado had scared the insurgents as much as it had anybody, and not one showed himself.
By eight o'clock they were once more on the way, Boxer leading with his gun ready for use, Larry in the centre, and Leroy bringing up the rear with the pistol.
They were just entering the jungle at the foot of the mountain when a strange moaning reached their ears and all halted. There was a silence, and then the moaning started up again.
"What is that?" questioned Larry. "It can't be a human being."
"I think I know what it is," returned the scout. "Wait here till I make sure," and he glided ahead and was soon lost to sight under a clump of tall trees which grew in somewhat of a clearing. Soon they heard him shouting for them to come on.
It was a water buffalo that was moaning. The beast had become caught under a partly fallen tree and could not release itself. It was a handsome animal and weighed a good many hundred pounds.
"Here's meat and to spare!" cried Boxer, and drawing forth a hunting knife, he put the caribao out of his misery in short order. "This is some more work of that tornado," he went on, as he proceeded to cut out a choice steak. "We won't starve for the next forty-eight hours."
"I hope by that time we'll have reached the army," answered Larry, and took the portion of meat handed to him. It was not a dainty thing to carry, but he had to shoulder it, since Boxer and Leroy were carrying the weapons.
As they proceeded, the jungle appeared to become more dense, until it was next to impossible to make any progress. Yet they felt that each step was bringing them closer to the open plain and to a point where few natives were likely to be congregated. "If we once get down to the bottom, we'll be all right," said Boxer.