The Campaign of the Jungle/Chapter 12

CHAPTER XII


SOMETHING ABOUT A POISONED WELL


After the rest at Angat, the taking of San Rafael by General Lawton's troops was an easy matter, and on May 1—the anniversary of Admiral Dewey's great victory in Manila Bay—the soldiers set out for the town of Baliuag, five miles to the northward.

In spite of the recent rain, the road was hard and even dusty in spots. The heat was still as great as ever, and Ben was glad to take the benefit of any shade that afforded itself as he marched along at the head of his command. The date made him think of the battle just mentioned, and this brought him around to Larry once more, and he began to wonder if his brother would ever turn up again.

"I suppose I'll have to write to Walter and to Uncle Job about this," he muttered dismally. "But I hate to do it, especially if Larry does turn up, for I know it will worry both of them greatly."

The road was thick with palms and plantains and trailing plants, the latter of gorgeous colorings. Nipa huts and bamboo cottages were numerous, but the imnates kept themselves well hidden as the little army passed by. In the distance were paddy-fields and cane-brakes, and along the road were numerous mud-holes, some of which had to be bridged over before the artillery could pass in safety. More than once horses and cannon got stuck, and many a shoulder had to be put to the pieces to budge them.

"If there was no war, this would be a delightful spot in which to spend a vacation," remarked Gilbert, who had come up for a little talk, as was his habit when they were pushing ahead in irregular formation. "I reckon the natives take solid comfort in their homes."

"I suppose it puts you in mind of the South at home," returned Ben, with a smile. "It is nice, certainly. But I fancy this continual heat would make one mighty lazy in time."

"Well, the natives are lazy, you can easily see that," laughed the young Southerner. "I wish I could get a good drink of water," he added, a minute later.

They soon came to a pretty dwelling, set in a perfect wilderness of flowers and shrubs. Toward the side they made out a well, and ran forward to fill their canteens.

The pair were at the well when a shrill cry from one of the side rooms of the house attracted their attention. Looking up, they saw a native girl waving her hand frantically at them. The girl was nicely dressed and evidently belonged to the better classes.

"We only want a drink!" shouted Ben, thinking that the maiden might imagine they had come into the garden to steal.

But the girl shouted more loudly than ever, and waved them away from the well. "Bad! bad!" she cried.

"Oh, no, we are not so bad as you think," Gilbert shouted back; and was about to take a drink from a cocoanut-shell dipper which hung handy, when the girl came out of the cottage on a run and dashed the dipper to the ground. At the same time an evillooking Filipino appeared at the doorway, shook his fist at the girl, and then suddenly ran for the barns behind the dwelling and disappeared.

"I want a drink and I'm going to have it," began Gilbert, sternly, for he did not like the manner in which the water had been spilt over his clothing. "If you—"

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"The well is poisoned! don't drink! it will kill you!"—Page 115.

"The -well is poisoned; don't drink, it will kill you!" gasped the girl, in Spanish.

As old readers know, Gilbert understood a little of the language, having picked it up while on a trip to Cuba, and also while serving as a Rough Rider in that island. He started back and caught the maiden by the arm.

"Poisoned! you are certain?" he cried.

"Yes, señor; my uncle put the poison in only yesterday. He lost much at Angat, and he is very angry at the Americanos in consequence. He knew the soldiers were coming this way, and he wanted to poison as many as he could. He put a water-barrel down on the road full of the poisoned water, too."

"Who is your uncle, the man who just ran off?"

"Yes, señor. But, oh, do not go after him, I pray you!" cried the girl, in high alarm. "I would not have spoken, but I could not see you poisoned before my very eyes; no, not that!"

As quickly as he could, Gilbert translated her words to Ben, who listened in amazement.

"The villain!" ejaculated the young captain. "I've heard of this sort of thing being done before. I wonder where that barrel is that she spoke about? We must find it and empty it of its contents."

Gilbert put the question to the girl, who announced that the barrel was on another road back of the plantation. Whether any of the soldiers had reached it or not was a question.

As quickly as he could Ben reported the situation to his superior, and received orders to divide his company, leaving a part to guard the poisoned well so that no Americans might drink from it, while the rest should go and hunt up the water-barrel. Gilbert was detailed to accompany Ben, and the girl was given to understand that she must take the soldiers to where the barrel had been set up.

At first the maiden demurred; but there was no help for it, and the kind smiles which Gilbert and Ben gave her were an assurance that no harm was about to befall her. Yet she was afraid that when the reckoning came her uncle would deal harshly with her, and trembled violently as she moved through the rice-fields with the two young officers beside her.

The little command had nearly reached the back road when the report of a gun rang out, coming from the direction of a wood behind the rice-fields. The bullet sped past Ben's shoulder, to bury itself in the fleshy part of one of his private's arms.

"'Tis my uncle! " cried the girl. "Oh, he will kill us all, I am sure of it!" And she became so agitated that she sank down and could not go another step.

Without hesitation, Ben ordered his men forward on the run, and away went the detachment for the spot from whence the unexpected shot had come. As the soldiers neared the wood they beheld a Filipino in the act of running across a small opening.

"That's him, the rascal!" roared Dan Casey, and taking a hasty aim he fired, and the rebel was seen to plunge forward on his face. When the party came up they found that the man had been hit in the hip, and that the wound, while not necessarily dangerous, was serious, and would put the fellow out of the contest for several months.

"It serves him right," said Ben. "Poisoning drinking water is not fair fighting."

The girl soon came up, crying bitterly. She wished to remain by her uncle, but Ben made her understand that she must point out the water-barrel first, and after that he would have two soldiers remove the wounded man to the cottage.

Ten minutes later the rear road was gained, and here the water-barrel was found, set up on end, with the top knocked out. It was three-quarters full of water, and a dozen or more soldiers were drinking and filling their canteens.

"Stop drinking!" ordered Ben, when still at a distance. "That water has been doctored and will make you sick." He refrained from saying the water was poisoned for fear of creating a panic.

The water was at once poured out on the ground and the barrel smashed up. Then a surgeon was found, to whom Ben related the facts of the case. A canteen of the water was examined, and the surgeon decided to give the man who had drunk the stuff an emetic. A few of the soldiers were taken with cramps inside of an hour afterward, and two of them were seriously sick for a week; but no lives were lost. But if the soldiers could have got at the Filipino who had poisoned the water, they would have shot him on the spot.

As soon as the danger was over, Ben returned to the wood, and had two men carry the wounded man back to the cottage, where he was left in charge of his wife and his niece. Through Gilbert it was learned that the wife had also remonstrated against using the poison, so it was fair to suppose that the aunt would protect her niece to a certain degree. "But she'll have a hard time of it for doing us a service, I'm afraid," said the young Southerner, as he and Ben resumed the march.

The scouts, under Chief Young, were in advance, and now a steady firing from the front told that another battle was at hand. Soon General Lawton came dashing through the crowd on the road, followed by his staff.

"Forward, boys!" was the cry, and then Ben's command left the road and took to the rice-fields on the outskirts of Baliuag. The line was a long one, with the Oregon and Minnesota soldiers forming the skirmishing end, and Scott's battery in a paddy-field on the extreme right. So far the insurgents had kept well hidden; but as the Americans drew closer to the town they could be seen running in half a dozen directions, as if undecided whether to fight or to flee.

The townspeople themselves were in a panic, and down the streets ran Filipinos and Chinese, some with their household effects piled high on their backs. They had heard of the coming of the Americanos, but had hoped almost against hope that their beloved town would be passed by unmolested.

Ben's regiment was moving along rapidly when they came to a ditch which seemed to divide the rice-field in half. A short pause followed, when along came the cry of "Down!" and every man dropped, and none too soon, for the insurgents had opened up unexpectedly from a cane-brake behind the rice-field.

"We must take that cane-brake," came the order from the colonel, and the word was passed along quickly, and away went the companies with a ringing cheer, firing as they ran, and reloading with all possible speed.

Ben was now truly in his element, and, waving his sword, he urged Company D well to the front, so that the cane was soon reached. But the rebels were not game for a hand-to-hand encounter and fled once more, through the cane and over a field of heavy grass leading to the very outskirts of the town beyond.

"They are running away!" was the cry. "On we go, boys, and the town will be ours in less than half an hour."

But now a halt was ordered, on the edge of the cane-brake. From the outskirts of the town appeared a Filipino waving a white rag over his head.

"Flag of truce!" cried the American general. "Cease firing!" And the order was instantlyobeyed. "Major Morris, you can select a detail of three men and find out what they want."

"I will, general," answered the major of the first battalion, and saluted. He had soon chosen his men, one of whom was Gilbert Pennington, and, waving a white flag before them, the party of four advanced into the open field.