The Campaign of the Jungle/Chapter 27

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The advances of both General MacArthur and General Lawton had been so far nothing but a series of successes, and so hard were the insurgents pressed, that they scarcely knew what to do next. Again they sued for peace, but as the Americans were not inclined to grant them anything until they had surrendered unconditionally, the war went on, but in more of a guerilla-fight fashion than ever.

Near San Fernando the rebels continued to tear up the railroad tracks, and likewise attacked a train of supplies, killing and wounding several who were on board. They also attacked several gunboats coming up the San Fernando River, keeping themselves safely hidden, in the meantime, behind high embankments thrown up along the stream. While this was going on General Aguinaldo called a council of war, at San Isidro, at which fifty-six of his main followers were present. By a vote it was found that twenty were for peace, twenty for war, and sixteen wished to negotiate with the United States for better terms. This gathering gave rise to a rumor that the war would terminate inside of fortyeight hours. Alas! it was still to drag on for many months to come.

The day after the tornado found Ben safe in camp again, with Gilbert in the hospital receiving every attention. It was Sunday, and a day of rest for the majority of the troops. At a small tent a short service was held, and Ben walked over, to hear a very good sermon on man's duty toward God under any and all circumstances. The sermon was followed by the singing of several hymns, and the soldiers remained at the spot for an hour or more afterward, talking over the general situation.

"It always takes me back home to hear the preachin'," remarked Ralph Sorrel. "I'm mighty glad we have it. It shows we ain't no heathens, even though we air livin' a kind o' hit-an'-miss life a-followin' up these yere rebs."

On Monday the scouts went out to the front, and a small brush was had with a number of the insurgents in the vicinity of San Miguel de Mayumo. They reported that the Filipinos had a number of intrenchments placed across the roads, but seemed to be retreating toward San Isidro.

"If Aguinaldo makes a stand anywhere, it will be at San Isidro," said Ben to Major Morris, as the two discussed the situation. "Oh, but I do wish we could have one big battle and finish this campaign!"

"How about the big battle going against us?" demanded the major, but with a twinkle in his eye.

"It would never go against us," answered the young captain, promptly, "and the insurgents know it. That is why they keep their distance."

The scouts had brought in a dozen or more prisoners, and among them were a Filipino and a Spaniard, both of whom could speak English quite fluently. As soon as he could obtain permission, Ben hurried over to have a talk with the prisoners.

He found that the Filipino had belonged to those having some of the American prisoners in charge.

"And do you know anything of my brother?" he asked eagerly. "He is a young sailor from the Olympia, and his name is Larry Russell."

"Yes, yes, I know him," answered the Filipino, nodding his head. "He was at the cave where they have kept some of the prisoners for a long time." And he described Larry so minutely that Ben felt there could be no mistake about the matter.

"Is my brother well? How do they treat him? Please tell me the truth."

"You may not believe it, but we treat our prisoners good," said the Filipino. "And when I saw your brother last he was very well."

"And where is this prison cave?"

At this the insurgent shrugged his shoulder. "Now, capitan, you are asking me too much. I am pleased to tell you that your brother is safe. More than that I cannot tell, for it would not be right."

This was not encouraging, yet Ben could not help but admire the prisoner's loyalty to his cause. "Very well," he said. "I am thankful to know that my brother is well. I was afraid that prison life might make him sick."

A little later the young captain got the chance to talk to the Spanish prisoner, who was making an application for his release, claiming that he was friendly to the United States and had never encouraged the rebels. Seldom had the young captain met more of a gentleman than Señor Romano proved to be.

"Ah, the war is terrible! terrible!" said the señor, after Ben had introduced himself. "It is bloodshed, bloodshed, all the time. Where it will end. Heaven alone knows—but I am afraid the Filipinos will be beaten far worse than was my own country."

"I think you are right there," replied Ben. "But we can't do anything for them now until they lay down their arms."

"The war has ruined hundreds of planters and merchants,—whole fortunes have been swept away,—and the insurgents have levied taxes which are beyond endurance. To some, Aguinaldo is their idol, but to me he is a base schemer who wants everything, and only for his own glory. But he cannot hold out much longer,—you are pressing him into the very mountains,—and once away from the civilization of the towns, his followers will become nothing but banditti—mark me if it is not so."

"You are a resident of Luzon?" went on Ben.

"Hardly. I belong in Spain—but I have lived here for several years."

"Do you know one Benedicto Lupez, or his brother José."

At this question the brow of Señor Romano darkened.

"Do I know them? Ah, yes, I know them only too well. They are rascals, villains, cheats of the worst order. I trust they are not your friends."

"Hardly, although I should like first-rate to meet them, and especially to meet Benedicto."

"And for what? Excuse my curiosity, but what can an American captain and gentleman like you have in common with Benedicto Lupez?"

"I want to get hold of some bank money that he carried off," answered the young captain, and told the story of the missing funds and the part the Spaniard was supposed to have played in their disappearance.

"It is like Lupez," answered Señor Romano. "He is wanted in Cuba for having swindled a rich aunt out of a small fortune; and in Manila you will find a hundred people who will tell you that both brothers are rascals to the last degree, although, so far, they have kept out of the clutches of the law—through bribery, I think."

"Not during General Otis's term of office?"

"No; before the city fell into your hands. The government was very corrupt and winked at Lupez's doings so long as he divided with certain officials."

"And what did he work at?"

"Land schemes and loan companies. He once got me interested in a land scheme, and his rascality cost me many dollars, and I came pretty near to going to prison in the bargain." Senor Romano paused a moment. "If your troops take San Isidro, you will have a good chance to catch both of the brothers."

"What! do you mean to say they are at San Isidro?" exclaimed the young captain.

"They are, or, at least, they were two or three days ago. How long they will stay there, I cannot say. They were at the council of war held by Aguinaldo's followers."

"I see." Ben mused for a moment. "Of course you do not know if they had the stolen money with them?"

"They appeared to have some money, for both were offered positions in the army, and that would not have happened had not they had funds to buy the offices with. They appeared to be very thick with a general named Porlar,—a tricky fellow of French-Malay blood. I believe the three had some scheme they wished to put through."

"Well, I'd like to catch the pair. I wonder if Aguinaldo would keep them around him, if he knew their real characters?"

At this Señor Romano laughed outright. "You do not know how bad are some of the men around the arch rebel, capitan. He has some bad advisers, I can tell you that. To some of the worst of the crowd, Aguinaldo is but a figurehead."

The pair discussed the matter for half an hour; and during that time Ben became convinced that Señor Romano had small sympathy for the insurgents, and was certainly not of their number.

"I will do what I can for you, señor," he said, on parting. "I do not believe you will be kept a prisoner long." And the young captain was right on this score; the Spanish gentleman was released inside of forty-eight hours, and journeyed to Manila in company with a detachment bound for the capital of Luzon.

The two talks made Ben do a good deal of sober thinking. He now knew to a certainty that Larry was alive and well, and he knew also that Benedicto Lupez was at or near San Isidro, and more than likely had the stolen money on his person. "I wish we could push ahead without delay," he muttered. "I might make a splendid strike all around. I know Larry is just aching to be at liberty once more."

But supplies were again slow in coming to the front, and General Lawton did not feel like risking his men when the Filipinos might surrender at any moment. So a delay of several days occurred, with only a little skirmish here and there to break the monotony.

"Hullo, here's news!" cried Major Morris, as he rushed up to Ben's quarters one morning. "Dewey is going to sail for the United States."

"With the Olympia?" queried the young captain.

"Yes. The warship leaves next Saturday, with all on board. Won't he get a rousing reception when he arrives home?"

"Larry won't be with him," said Ben.

"By Jove, captain, that's so. It's too bad, isn't it? I suppose he would like to go, too."

"I can't say as to that. Perhaps he would just as lief stay here and join some command on land, or some other ship, especially if he knew that my brother Walter was coming on. But I am sure he would like to see his old messmates off," concluded Ben.

Admiral Dewey started for the United States at four o'clock in the afternoon of Saturday, May 20. The departure proved a gala time, the harbor and shipping being decorated, and the other warships firing a salute. The bands played "Auld Lang Syne," "Home, Sweet Home," and "America," and the jackies crowded the tops to get a last look at the noble flagship as she slipped down the bay toward the China Sea, with the admiral standing on the bridge, hat in hand, and waving them a final adieu. In all the time he had been at Manila, Admiral Dewey had served his country well, and his home-coming was indeed to be one of grand triumph.