The Campaign of the Jungle/Chapter 24
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 tomorrow."
"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?