A Sailor Boy with Dewey/Chapter 22

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CHAPTER XXII.


BETWEEN TWO FIRES.


"I don't know much about this part of the country," said Dan, as we drew away from the American camp witji great caution. "I wish we could pick up a native guide. He might save us from a lot of trouble."

"There are natives enough around, if only they can be trusted. Let us strike the first man we meet and see what he has to say."

Leaving camp was an easy matter, for as yet military rule was rather lax. We took a small side trail, that presently brought us in sight of a collection of rude bamboo huts, one burning and all deserted. Back of the huts we found a tall negro sitting on a tree stump, his lean chin resting in the palm of an equally lean hand.

Dan called to him in Spanish, but the man did not stir until my chum walked up and shook him by the shoulder. Then he stared at us from eyes buried deeply in their sockets.

His tale was soon told. His wife had been shot down in a skirmish around the bamboo huts on the day that the Spanish soldiers had retreated from Cavité to Manila, and his only child had been trampled under the feet of a runaway buffalo cow, a beast quite common in certain parts of the Philippines. His home was that now being reduced to ashes.

"Your lot is certainly a hard one, my man," said Dan to him soothingly. "But it will do you no good to sit here and mourn. What is your name?"

"Wamba, señor."

"Would you like to become our guide, Wamba? We will pay you well?"

At this the eyes of the native brightened somewhat, for he was of the poorest class.

"You will pay me well?" he asked slowly.

"We will."

"You will not pay me in chit?" went on Wamba. In Manila many large bills are paid in chit, instead of coin, a chit being merely a personal note. These chits are issued by nearly everyone, and float around from person to person before being presented to the issuer for redemption.

"No, you shall have coin—gold and silver," and Dan showed the contents of his purse, which contained several Mexican silver dollars, and some Spanish gold and copper coins.

"And where shall I guide you?"

"We want to go into Manila secretly."

"You are soldier spies?"

"No, we are private citizens and want to learn something of business matters. Our fathers belong to the firm of Raymond, Holbrook & Smith, of Manila, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and other cities."

"I know the name, señor," and Wamba nodded. "But the business must be ruined now," and he gave a deep sigh.

"That is what we want to see. Will you undertake to get us into Manila? Remember, I will pay you well."

"I will do what I can, but it will be a dangerous undertaking."

The talk between the native and Dan continued for some time, and then we hurried on, leaving the trail and passing over the wet ground of a rice field recently flooded.

It was again hot, and after half an hour of traveling I was glad enough to cast myself in a shady spot to rest. While Dan did the same Wamba went off in search of cool water from a nearby spring.

"I suppose things in Manila are in a state of high excitement," observed my chum, as he lay back against a tree. "The Spaniards are in a box—with the American fleet in front and the rebels behind."

"I think they would rather surrender to us than to the rebels, Dan."

"I've no doubt they would. But they'll surrender to nobody until forced to do it. They are as high-minded as ever, if I know anything about it."

"Business must be at a complete standstill. Perhaps the Spanish authorities have confiscated everything at the offices."

"I wonder what has become of Tom Dawson, Matt Gory, and the Starlight? I didn't see anything of the craft while on the Boston, did you?"

"No. She probably lost no time in slipping past Corregidor Island when it was known that a fight was in prospect."

"And what do you suppose has become of Captain Kenny, Watt Brown, and Ah Sid, who were captured?"

"That is for time to tell, if we are ever to know at all."

Wamba came back with the water, into which we stirred some sugar-cane ends to make it more palatable, and we arose to continue our journey.

"What's that?" cried Dan, as the crack of a rifle broke the semitropical stillness. "Some sort of a battle is on, that's certain!"

The single report was followed by several others, and then came two heavy volleys in rapid succession.

"I'll wager it is a fight between the insurgeills and the Spanish outposts!" I cried. "Hark, they seem to be coming this way. Wamba, what had we best do?"

The native looked at me in perplexity, and Dan repeated the question in Spanish. Then Wamba pointed off to the woods back of us. "We hide in hollow," he said, in his native tongue.

We lost no time in following him, for the sound of firearms came closer, and soon a bullet clipped through the leaves over our heads. As we descended into the hollow to which the guide led us we heard a wild shouting, and at a distance a hundred or more Tagals burst into sight.

The natives were armed with rifles secured at Cavité and in Manila, and were endeavoring to turn the right flank of a company of Spanish soldiers, who soon came into view on the opposite side of the hollow. The firing was now incessant, and all three of our party were glad enough to drop down out of sight in the dense bushes.

"We are caught between two fires!" announced Dan grimly. "Here's a state of things, to say the least. Oliver, how do you like it?"

"We had better remain quiet, Dan. I have no desire to get a Mauser bullet through my head."

"Nor I. I only hope both sides move off to some other locality."

The hollow was of indefinite length and about a hundred feet wide and ten to twenty feet deep. The Tagals were close to the south bank, while the Spaniards held a position a hundred and fifty to two hundred yards away. In fifteen minutes the volley firing ceased, but a steady pop-pop from one direction or another took its place.

"Each side is throwing out skirmishers," said Dan. "If any of them come down here I don't know what we had best do!"

"If it comes to the worst we'll have to throw our fortunes in with the rebels," I answered. "But I have no liking for either side."

We were armed with pistols, fine six-shooters, and we held these in readiness for use, should occasion require. Wamba acted as if he wanted to leave us, but doubtless the hope of getting money out of us made him remain.

As I have said, the natives were closer than the Spanish, and presently a dozen of them slipped down into the hollow. They were determined-looking fellows, much superior to the Tagals I had met up at the locality where the Dart lay stranded.

"They are coming this way!" whispered Dan. "I'm afraid, if they spot us, they will fire before we can explain who we are."

"We had better—" I began, when pop! went a rifle, and a bullet grazed my temple, causing me to tumble over my chum and go crashing in the brush back of him.

"Oliver! you are hit!" he gasped. "Oh, this is too bad!" and he caught me up in his arms.

"I—I guess it's not much," I faltered, putting my hand up and withdrawing it covered with blood. Getting out a large linen handkerchief, I bound it over the wound, which was but a scratch, even though fully as deep as was desirable.

The crash in the brush had attracted the attention of the Spanish soldiers, and now they saw the Tagals and heavy firing recommenced. We were in the very midst of this, and several bullets sang alarmingly close to our ears. We wished that a better shelter than the brush was at hand, but nothing was in sight and we had to make the best of it.

Inside of a quarter of an hour it looked as if the rebels would get the best of the fight, but suddenly some Spanish re-enforcements came up, and in a twinkling the Tagals were sent flying toward the hills to the eastward, leaving a score of dead and wounded behind them.

"They are leaving us!" muttered Dan, when without warning several Spanish soldiers appeared, running directly toward us. Each had his gun up ready to shoot, so resistance would have been foolhardy.

"Halte!" came the useless command, since we were not moving. "Throw down your arms or we will fire," followed, also in Spanish.

Dan looked at me and I at him, and then both of us dropped our pistols. Seeing this, Wamba uttered a grunt of dissatisfaction, turned, and crawled like a snake out of sight into the bushes. In a moment more the Spanish soldiers had surrounded us.