A Sailor Boy with Dewey/Chapter 23

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The soldiers who had made us prisoners were dark, determined-looking fellows belonging to the Manila Home Guard, a body distinct from the troops sent to the islands from Spain.

They were seven in number, including a lieutenant, who, as I afterward learned, rejoiced in the unique name of Carlos Remondenanez.

"Americanos!" muttered the lieutenant, as he surveyed us. "Where you come from? " he demanded, in by no means bad English.

"We came from Cavité,' I answered, glad to know that he would understand me.

"Sailors from the American warships?"

"We are private citizens, on our way to Ma——" Dan checked himself.

"Ha! private citizens! Bah! You Americanos are all out for a fight, like a wild bull! But we will show you, here in Luzon and at Cuba, too! When it is over the pigs will be sorry they took up arms against the sons of my country," and he slapped his chest.

Had the situation been less serious I would have been tempted to laugh at his pomposity. But as that might have brought on my sudden death, I resisted the temptation even to smile.

"Yes, it is too bad to have war with anybody," I said calmly. "Do you consider us your prisoners?"

"And why not, boy, why not? To be sure you are not old enough to be a regular soldier, but your finger on the trigger of a gun may do as much damage as the finger of a man of forty. Search them, men!" he added, to his command, in Spanish.

Two of the party immediately advanced, and relieved us of the pistols we had thrown down and also two daggers Dan had brought along from Hong Kong. I think Lieutenant Remondenanez was strongly tempted to confiscate our purses also, but did not dare on account of one of the soldiers, who watched him closely. This man was a new recruit, so Dan found out later, and was too high-minded to countenance such a proceeding, even on the part of his officer, without reporting it at headquarters.

Having been searched, we were marched out of the hollow to the trail running down to the highway. Here we were placed in charge of three soldiers, one of whom marched at either side of us and the other to the rear.

Our course was along a series of dense palm trees which sheltered us somewhat from the sun. Yet the walk was a hot one, and soon the wound I had received gave me a violent headache.

"I must rest," I said to Dan, and sank down almost exhausted.

"No rest for you!" shouted the corporal in charge of the detail, and poked me with his bayonet, and sick as I was I had to get up and go on my way.

But soon luck stood me in good stead. We arrived at a sort of wayside inn, where there were two companies of Spanish soldiers, and here we halted for further orders.

It was decided to keep us at the place over night, and we were conducted to a rude stable in the rear, built of bamboo and palm leaves.

Inside were half a dozen small native ponies, belonging to as many Spanish officers. It was a foul-smelling resort, and it made me feel more sick than ever.

The place was already being used as a prison and outside four guards, with ready guns, patrolled the sides of the stable at a distance of ten paces.

"What a hole!" cried Dan, as we were shoved through the doorway and the guard left us. "I'll wager the stable is full of vermin!"

"Who is that as spakes!" came from the semi-darkness. "Sure an' th' voice sounds remarkably loik that of a friend, so it does!"

"Matt Gory!" burst out Dan and I simultaneously.

"An' it's Oliver an' Dan, so it is!" ejaculated the Irish sailor, rushing to us and catching our hands warmly. "Sure an' it's a sorry place for a mating, aint it now?"

"How did you get here, Gory?" I asked. "I thought you were on the Starlight?"

"Sure an thim haythins o' Spaniards confiscated the ship, so they did. Oi an' Tom Dawson thried to escape, an' here Oi am, as ye can behold if yez have sharp eyes."

"And what of Dawson?" asked Dan.

"Oi don't know where he is. He started to join Commodore Dewey's marines at Cavité."

"When did all this happen?"

"We lift the Starlight a week ago, but Oi was captured yesterday. Phy have yez yer head toied up?" he went on, to me.

I told him of our adventures in the hollow, and Dan related what had occurred since we had left the Starlight. Matt Gory had arranged a resting place of the cleanest straw to be found, in a corner, and here I dropped, completely fagged out.

All told, the stable contained nine prisoners; the others being Spaniards who sympathized with the insurgents. They were a motley collection, and filled the already foul air with the noxious fumes of their ever-present cigarettes.

While I rested, Dan spoke to one and another of them, and learned considerable concerning the present situation in Manila. As we had surmised, all business was at a standstill, the shops were closed, and the streets were guarded by Spanish soldiers, the native policemen not being trusted to do the duty. All was in a state of suppressed excitement, and it was expected that Dewey would shell the city at his pleasure. Provisions were scarce and there was much suffering, especially among the poorer classes.

Strange as it may seem I rested well that night, and Dan also slept soundly. We were stirring at sunrise, and with us Matt Gory, who had suffered no injury and was willing at any moment to fight for his liberty.

"Oi'll not go to any dirthy Spanish prison if Oi can hilp it,—an' Oi think I can," were his words.

"I am with you," I answered. "But I don't want to bite my nose off to spite my face."

At seven o'clock we were ordered out into the open air, and we were not sorry, for the smell in the stable during the night had grown worse instead of better. All were formed into single file and told to march to the rear door of the inn and our breakfast would be dealt out to us.

"Like a lot of tramps getting a hand-out," laughed Dan, when a Spanish officer struck him with his sword and ordered him to keep silent.

Breakfast consisted of some stale bread, a chunk of meat that had been stewed in rice, and water. We had to eat and drink standing up or let it alone, and I hardly touched a mouthful.

The breakfast over, we were about to leave the inn, when without warning a volley of shots came from a woods behind the hostelry and a Spanish officer and two privates dropped dead within a dozen feet of us. Before the Spaniards could recover from their astonishment a second volley was delivered, and four others went down, including one of the prisoners, who was struck by accident in the leg. Then came a wild yell and about fifty Spanish rebels from Manila burst into view.

The scene that followed beggars my pen to describe. For some minutes pandemonium reigned supreme, and Spanish officers and privates alike knew not what to do. Some rushed into the inn and some out, and a number took to their heels with all the speed of which their legs were capable. Then a capitan called them to order, and they formed into a hollow square on the defensive.

"This is our chance!" yelled Matt Gory, as he seized Dan and me by the arms. "Come on!"

"I am with you!" I answered.

"Let us make for the stable," said Dan.

"Aint the woods betther?" queried the Irishman.

"The ponies!" I interrupted, understanding what my chum meant. "Just the thing!"

And away we went for the stable. A Spanish guard tried to block our way, but we tripped him over and tore his gun from him.

Dan was the first inside of the structure and he speedily untied three of the small, but strong, animals and led them to a rear door. Then up we leaped into the high, uncomfortable Spanish saddles (for the poor beasts stood there with all their trappings) and off we sped down the highway, leaving Spaniards, rebels, and the other prisoners to take care of themselves.

Of course we did not escape unnoticed, and Spaniards and rebels both fired on us. But their aim was poor, and the leaden messengers flew wide of the mark. Soon we were out of sight around a bend, and then we speedily took to a side trail that looked as if it might afford at least temporary security.