IN WHICH A FLAG OF TRUCE IS FIRED UPON
Major Morris well knew the wiliness of the Filipinos, yet he did not doubt but that they would pay due respect to a flag of truce which they had themselves invited. Accordingly he advanced boldly with his little party, until the four had covered fully one-half of the distance which separated the American troops from the point where the rebels had taken a stand.
"He is thrustin' thim a whole lot!" groaned Dan Casey, who was the closest man in the ranks to Ben. "If he gits plugged—"
"They won't dare to fire, Dan," said a companion. "If they did—"
The speech was cut short by the pop of a Mauser rifle, followed by two more pops, and the private who carried the white flag was seen to fling- the banner down and fall headlong. In the meantime, the Filipinos who had appeared with the white rag were running back to their own ranks with all possible speed.
"They have fired on the flag of truce!" The cry arose from a hundred throats, and then a scattering volley rang out. At the same time the Filipinos opened up in a body, and Major Morris, Gilbert, and the third man were seen to pitch into the tall grass in such a manner that they were almost hidden from view.
"Gilbert is shot! And Major Morris too!" Such was the painful thought which ran through Ben's brain. He looked at the colonel pleadingly.
"Advance at once, Captain Russell, with the first battalion, to the rescue of the flag of truce," ordered the colonel, understanding him fully. "After this, give the enemy no quarter."
"Forward, men, to the rescue!" shouted the young captain, almost before his superior had finished. "Deploy to the left and fire at will. And make every shot tell!" he added bitterly.
"Forward it is!" shouted Dan Casey. "Down wid the haythins that don't know the manin' av honor!" And he led in the rush over the long grass.
The whole line was soon advancing, but Ben's company was in front, and kept there until within a hundred feet of where the four men had gone down. Then, to his amazement, the young captain saw Major Morris leap up, followed by Gilbert and the third soldier, and run with all speed toward the American line.
"Not shot!" cried Ben, joyfully. "Heaven be thanked for that!" And he almost felt like embracing his two friends. Only the flag-bearer had been struck, and he not seriously. The others had gone down in the long grass to destroy the enemy's aim. The wounded flag-carrier was taken to the rear, and then the whole line pushed on with a yell which was as savage as it was loud and long. The incident, short as it was, was not forgotten, and when one end of the American line closed in on the retreating insurgents the latter fought to the last, knowing only too well that little quarter would be given to them because of their perfidy.
The long American line had swung toward Baliuag in a semicircle, and now, when the insurgents tried to flee by way of the north, they found themselves confronted front and rear. This put them in more of a panic than ever; and had General Lawton had a thousand additional troops, it is more than likely he could have surrounded the rebels completely and compelled every one in that territory to throw down his arms.
But he had not the extra men, nor could he get them. Moreover, he had hardly a decent map of the territory, while the enemy knew every field, every road, and every stream. They could not make a stand at Baliuag, nor could they run in the direction of San Rafael, so their only course was to take to the rice-fields, the cane-brakes, and the jungle, and this they did in short order.
By the time the outskirts of the town was gained Ben's command was almost exhausted; yet the colonel of the regiment felt that now was no time to rest, and company after company was sent out in the hope that some of the scattering bands of insurgents might be rounded up.
"Major Morris, you will take your four companies up yonder road," said the colonel, after receiving orders from General Lawton's orderly, and the head of the regiment pointed out the road in question. Soon the battalion was off on the double-quick, the major more than eager to wipe out the treachery which had been shown to him and his companions but an hour or two before.
The road which the battalion followed was a winding one, lined with cottages of the better sort, showing that this was a fashionable outskirt of the town. Only a few people showed themselves, and nothing was seen or heard of the insurgents until a quarter of a mile had been covered, and the best of the habitations had been left behind. Then came an unexpected fire from a cane-brake, and out dashed fully two hundred savage-looking Tagals armed with guns and bolos.
"Halt! Fire!" came the commands, and the Americans obeyed as quickly as possible. Several of our men had been hit, one seriously, and now half a dozen Filipinos went down. For several minutes the fighting was at close quarters, and it looked as if the battalion had run into an ambush and were about to be slaughtered.
"To the shelter of the trees!" shouted Ben, and was about to guide his men when a fierce-looking rebel officer leaped before him with drawn sword. His own blade met that of the enemy, and both flashed fire. But the Tagal was a fine swordsman and kept at his work, feeling certain that he could run the Americano through and through. Clack! clack! went the blades, up and down, side to side, and straight forward.
"Take care there!" came from Major Morris, and just then the Tagal's sword pricked Ben's arm. The young captain leaped back a step, then came forward, and as quick as lightning his sword found the Tagal's ribs. At the same time Dan Casey fired at the enemy, and the officer went down flat on his back, shot through the breast.
"I had to do it," cried the Irish volunteer. "I thought he was afther stickin' ye like a pig!"
"It was a close shave," murmured Ben, as he passed on. "He handled his sword like an expert. I shan't forget you for that, Casey."
"Sure, an' that's all right, captain," answered the soldier, quickly. "Is your arm hurted much?"
"I guess not. Come, we've got them on the run again." And away the pair went, into the canebrake, through which the rebels were crashing like so many wild cattle.
The day had been full of excitement, but much more was to follow. The cane-brakes were heavy, and soon Ben and Casey found themselves separated from the main body of the battalion and out of sight of their own company. Then several Filipinos confronted them and called upon them to surrender.
"We ain't surrenderin' just yit, we ain't!" howled the Irish soldier, and let drive at the nearest rebel, while Ben discharged his pistol. Two of the enemy were wounded, and in an instant the others took to their heels, evidently convinced that such fighters were "too many" for them.
The encounter, however, had taken time, and now Ben called upon his companion to stop running. "We want to know where we are running to first," he said. "Listen."
They listened and made out a distant firing to both the right and the left. "I'm afther thinkin' our b'ys is to the right," said Dan Casey.
"I believe you are right, Casey; although both of us may be mistaken," rejoined the young captain of Company D. "We will try that direction, anyway."
They continued on their way through the canebrake until they reached a small stream. Here the ground was soft and full of treacherous bog-holes, and both looked at each other in dismay.
"Sure, an' this is more than we bargained fer, eh, captain?" remarked Casey, as he pulled himself out of a hole into which he had gone almost to his knees. "If we don't look out we'll git stuck so tight there'll be no budgin' av us."
"The ground to the right seems to be firmer," replied Ben. "Come, we will move in that direction."
But to get out of the soft spot was not easy, and soon they found themselves between the tall cane and up to their knees in a muck that seemed to stick worse than glue.
"Sure, an' this is fightin' wid a vengeance," said the Irish volunteer, smiling grimly. "It's sthuck we are like flies on a fly paper, eh. Captain Russell?"
"We've got to get out somehow, Casey," answered Ben, half desperately. "Our command is marching farther and farther away, and we'll have all we can do to get up to them."
"Sure thin, an' Major Morris betther send a detail back wid a long rope to pull us out. We couldn't fly from the inimy now if we thried, could we?"
"This is no joke, Casey."
"Joke, bedad? No, captain, I'm afther thinkin' it's a mighty sarious difficulty. But there's no use av cryin', no matther how bad it is," finished the Irish soldier, philosophically.
A moment of reflection convinced Ben that the best thing he could do was to go back part of the distance they had come, and make an endeavor to cross the little stream at another point.
They retreated with difficulty, first one sinking into some treacherous hole and then the other. Once Casey went flat on his back, and gave a loud yell of dismay when he found himself covered with a mud that was more like a paste than anything else.
"Sure, an' I'll not go in such a cane-field again, bedad," he muttered, as he started to pick up the gun he had dropped. As he did so a cracking of cane-stalks near them caused both to straighten up in alarm.
"Who comes?" cried Ben, and drew the pistol he had shoved into his belt.
There was no answer and he repeated the demand. "Are you Americans?" he added.
Still there was no reply. But the cracking of the stalks continued, and the sounds seemed to move around the pair in something of a circle. Then came a soft command in the Tagalog dialect. At once Dan Casey clutched Ben by the arm.
"They be afther surroundin' us, captain," he whispered. "Be the noises there must be tin or a dozen av thim. Phwat shall we do, fight or run fer it?"