SURROUNDED BY THE ENEMY
For the moment after Dan Casey spoke Ben was silent, not knowing himself what was best to do. That the Filipinos were surrounding them there could be no doubt, since those approaching would have answered the young captain of Company D had they been Americans.
The position of the pair was dangerous in the extreme, for the tall cane-stalks surrounded them upon all sides, giving shelter to the enemy, while the Tagals could see the volunteers with ease.
"Keep quiet, Casey," whispered Ben, as the soldier started to speak again. "They may not know how many there are of us here and sneak off, fearing an ambush."
The Irish volunteer nodded to show that he understood. He was holding his gun before him, ready to shoot whenever it appeared necessary.
Presently there was another whispered command, coming from directly in front of our friends. A slight movement in the cane-brake followed, and then all became silent once more.
"Come!" whispered Ben. "Don't fire until you see me do so."
Thus speaking, the young captain moved slowly and cautiously from the spot they had occupied for five minutes or more. He picked his steps, and they fell as silently as those of a cat after a bird. Casey was at his heels, almost holding his breath, and his small eyes glistening with expectancy. Both knew that they were carrying their lives in their hands.
Two rods had been covered, and still nothing was seen of the Filipinos. Was it possible that they had withdrawn? But no, there was another cracking of cane-stalks and another commapd in the Tagalog language, coming now from their left. Then of a sudden a Mauser rang out, and a bullet whistled back of Ben's head and across Casey's face.
The report had not yet died out when Ben fired, straight for the flash of fire of which he had caught a momentary glimpse. That his shot reached its mark was proven by the wild yell of pain which followed.
"The jig is up!" cried Dan Casey. "We must run fer it, captain!" And as a Tagal came into view before them he fired point-blank at the fellow, hitting him in the breast and killing him on the spot.
As luck would have it, the Filipino whom Casey had killed was a petty officer and the leader of the detachment, and his sudden taking-off disconcerted the insurgents for a minute, who yelled one to another that their leader was shot. Taking advantage of the confusion, our friends rushed headlong through the cane-brake, firing several times as they ran. A dozen shots answered them, but none of these took effect.
"I think the road is yonder," said Ben, pointing with his pistol as they progressed. "Hark!"
From a distance came a scattering volley, proving that the fighting was not yet over. It came from the direction in which they were running. But now those left behind were after them, shooting and shouting with vigor, for they were ten to two, and were determined that the wicked Americanos should not escape their clutches.
At last the cane-brake was left behind. Beyond was a small part of a rice-field, and close by a cottage which appeared deserted.
"Sure, captain, an' we'll be shot down like dogs if we show ourselves in th' open," panted Casey, who was almost out of breath.
"Get behind the house," answered Ben. "It is our one chance," and he started in advance. Again the Filipinos fired on them, and this time a bullet touched the young captain's side, cutting a straight hole through his clothing.
They were yet a hundred feet from the cottage when two American soldiers came rushing forth, guns in hand. The strangers took in the situation at a glance, and let drive with such good aim that two of the enemy fell back wounded. The others paused, not knowing how many Americans might be concealed in the building, and in another minute Ben and Casey were for the time being safe.
"By gum, ef it ain't Captain Russell!" cried one of the soldiers, as he faced Ben. "I'm right glad to be yere to help ye, cap'n," and he smiled broadly.
"Ralph Sorrel!" returned Ben, as he recognized the tall Tennesseean who had once accompanied him on a search for Gilbert when the young Southerner was missing. "What are you doing here?"
"Jeming an' me hev got a wounded man with us—Sergeant Kaser o' our company. We war takin' him back o' the lines, when he got so bad we brung him in yere to rest a spell. But you—"
"Thim rebels is comin' agin!" announced Dan Casey. "Six, eight, nine av thim, wid wan limpin'. How many av us are there here?" he asked, as he looked aroimd.
"Four," answered Ben. "Load up, boys, and when you shoot—"
"We'll make every shot tell," answered Jeming, a hardy-looking soldier, almost as tall as his companion.
"I don't believe they will come very close," continued Ben. "They know that we have the advantage of them, even if we are but four to nine."
The young captain was right. The Filipinos had showed themselves only for a few seconds. Now, as Sorrel raised his gun, they lost no time in darting behind cover.
The cottage consisted of four rooms, all on the ground floor, and a low loft upstairs. It was well built and fairly furnished in native fashion. On the single bed it contained lay the wounded soldier. Sergeant Kaser, whom Ben had met several times. He was hit in the neck, and looked as if he could last but a few hours at the most.
"Sorry we can't git ye back to camp, sergeant," said Sorrel, as he did what he could to ease the wounded one's pain. "The house is surrounded by the enemy. I reckon we kin keep 'em out, but I reckon likewise thet they kin keep us in—at least fer a while."
"It—don't—matter," gasped Sergeant Kaser. "I am not—not—long for this world. What a terrible thing war is! I never thought I was going to be shot down like this!" And he gave another gasp. His eyes were staring from his head, for he was suffering severe pain.
Ben looked around the cottage for something which might be given to the sufferer to ease him. But the dwelling had been stripped of all small things, and nothing in the way of food, drink, or medicine remained. Sorrel had already bound a handkerchief soaked in cold water around the wounded neck, so nothing more could be done, excepting to raise the sufferer up to a sitting position, at his request. "I don't know as thet is best fer him," whispered the tall Tennesseean to Ben. "But he ain't long fer this world, as he says, an' he might as well hev his wish as not."
In the meantime Casey and Jeming were on guard, one watching to the front and right, the other to the left and rear. The nearest building to the cottage was a hundred and fifty feet away, but buslies and small trees were numerous, and the Americans were afraid the rebels might try to sneak up behind these and surprise them.
"Something is moving over there," announced Jeming, after watching several of the bushes for a short spell. "Can't make out, though, if it's man or beast."
"Have you plenty of ammunition?" asked Ben, who, as an officer, felt in charge of the party.
"Seventeen rounds, captain."
"And how about you, Casey?"
"Fifteen rounds," returned the Irish volunteer, after counting up the contents of his belt.
"I have twelve rounds, captain," came from Sorrel. "But I reckon you know how I shoot, an' Jeming's jest as good, mebbe better."
"I think the supply is sufficient," said Ben, "so don't run any chances. If you think that is an enemy give him a shot. But don't hit one of our fellows by mistake," he added, by way of caution.
"It's a Tagal!" cried Jeming, while the young captain was yet beside him. The gun was levelled like a, flash, a report followed, and the Filipino fell behind the bushes and was seen no more.
"Thet will teach 'em to keep their distance," was Sorrel's comment. "Perhaps they'll clear out soon, bein' afeered some more o' our troops will come this way."
But the natives were "game," as Ben expressed it; and instead of withdrawing, they began to come closer, using every bush, tree, and outbuilding to the best advantage. Some of their fellows had joined them, so that the attacking party now numbered fifteen, and each well armed. They had seen that Ben wore the uniform of a captain, and felt that the capture of such an officer would be much to their credit.
Sergeant Kaser was now groaning so that he could be heard even outside of the building, and as the rebels had fired through the windows several times, they concluded that they had wounded one of the four men they knew to be inside. If this was so, but three Americanos were now left, and they felt that victory would soon be within their grasp.
"Surrendor, or we kill eferyboddy!" cried one of the number, in English that could scarcely be understood. "We haf dreety mens outside."
"We ain't surrenderin', not by a jugful!" answered Sorrel. "What in thunder does he mean by 'dreety mens'?" he added, to his companions.
"I think he means thirty," answered Ben. "But I don't believe there are that many."
"Yes, but there are more than there was," announced Casey, quickly. "I'm just afther seein' 'em pass yonder bushes." He had pointed his gun, but the Filipinos had been too quick for him.
"Do you surrendor?" demanded the voice again. "We shall begin to shoot if you no gif up."
"No surrender," answered Ben, firmly.
Hardly had he spoken when something came rolling toward the cottage and stopped close to the porch. It was a rude ball made of sugar-cane husks and over a foot in diameter. The ball was ablaze and burning fiercely, as if covered with pitch.