The Campaign of the Jungle/Chapter 21
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 jovlt 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."