The Campaign of the Jungle/Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI


NEWS FROM HOME


It was evident that the majority of the insurgents had now had enough of fighting, for while the engagement just mentioned was taking place, General Luna of the Filipinos sent forward his chief of staff to General MacArthur, with a request that hostilities cease, pending a conference of Americans and Filipinos looking toward a settlement of existing difficulties.

But our leaders knew only too well what delay meant, and refused to enter into any compact unless the natives first threw down their arms. The Filipinos wanted their freedom, but events had now so shaped themselves that absolute freedom for them appeared to be out of the question. So the conference practically amounted to nothing. And while this was taking place, General Hale began to move eastward to join General Lawton's command on its march toward San Isidro. It was the policy of all the American commanders to give the Filipinos no rest during the short time left to them before the heaviest of the rainy season set in.

A rest of two days did Ben's company a world of good. Communications with Malolos were now opened, and supplies were coming forward rapidly. With the supply wagons came Carl Stummer, just from the hospital and still somewhat "shaky," but eager to be again on the firing line.

"I could not dink me of stayin' any longer," he said, as he shook hands all around. "Der docther say, 'You vos besser here,' und I say, 'I ton't gits me no besser bis I schmell dot powder purning vonce more alretty!'"

"Well, it's powdher ye'll be afther shmellin' soon," put in Dan Casey. "It's forward we go to-morrow, so th' colonel is afther sayin'."

"Goot! " said Carl. Then he added with a faint smile. "You see, Tan, I vos afraid you kill all dem Filibenos off pefore I could git here."

"Sure an' I saved a couple fer ye, Carl," replied his chum. "Ye'll not be wantin' fer a scrap, I'll warrant!" And then he related his own and Ben's adventures, to which the German volunteer listened with much interest.

The wagon train had brought in the mail, and this included the usual letters for Ben—one from Walter and the other from Uncle Job Dowling. Ben breathed a long sigh as he opened the communications.


"I'm going to spring a surprise on you," so wrote Walter. "I've been reading the newspapers, and it makes me weary to think that I am just cruising around with our squadron doing nothing, while you and Larry are right in it, head and heels. I've applied for a transfer to one of the warships in Manila waters, and it may be that before this reaches you I will be on the bounding Pacific on my way to join you and Larry in our fight with Aguinaldo and his supporters. Si Doring, my old Yankee chum, has applied with me, so we'll probably come on together, and when we get there you and Larry will have to look to your laurels, that's all."


"Dear Walter!" murmured Ben, after reading the letter twice. "What will he say when he hears that Larry is missing? If Larry doesn't show up, it will break his heart, and it will break mine, too!" And he brushed away the tears that sprang up in spite of his efforts to keep them down. Then he turned to the heavy, twisted scrawl from his Uncle Job.


"It's rare good news you have sent, Ben," wrote the old man, after stating that he was in good health, "and the news comes none too soon, for the party who took a mortgage on my house wants his money, and where I am going to get it I don't know, with money so tight and interest and bonus so high. I've told him that Braxton Bogg is captured,—and he saw it in the newspaper, too,—and he is about of a mind to wait for his money now until the bank gets back what was stolen, and settles up. For myself, I can't hardly wait till that time comes; and after this you can be sure I'll be mighty careful where I put my cash and what's coming to you three boys, too. You won that thousand dollars' reward fairly, and I hope you and Larry won't squander it like most soldiers would. I thought that war would end soon, but it appears like it would go on forever. Tell Larry to take good care of himself, and mind that you don't get shot."


"Poor Uncle Job—he'll be in a hole again," murmured Ben. "Evidently he wrote this right after I sent word Braxton Bogg was caught, and he doesn't know anything of my being shot and getting over it, and of Benedicto Lupez skipping out with what Bogg stole. Hang the luck, but everything seems to be going wrong." And Ben grated his teeth, in a mood hard to explain.

"What's up, Ben?" The question came from Gilbert, who had just come up to watch the young captain, in considerable surprise.

Ben showed the two communications. "I'm just thinking of what I had best write to my Uncle Job," he returned. "I'm afraid it will break the old fellow's heart to learn that the money is gone—and after he is trying to turn over a new leaf, too."

"And the news about Larry will cause him pain, too, I reckon."

"No doubt, but—but—well, between you and me, Gilbert, I'm afraid the money will hurt the worst—Uncle Job always did set such a store by a few dollars. As for me, I'd give all I'll ever be worth if only I knew Larry was safe," concluded the young captain, arising from a seat under a palm tree as Major Morris came forward to speak to him.

"Captain, I'm ordered to the front to-night, to do a little reconnoitring," said the major of the first battalion. "I thought perhaps you would like to go out with me. Possibly we can again get on the track of that Bogg fortune;" and he smiled faintly, for he had been with Ben on the night Braxton Bogg had been first made a prisoner.

"I'll go out with you gladly," answered the young captain, promptly. "But I doubt if that money is ever found—or my brother Larry, either," he added, with bitterness.

"Oh, cheer up, captain, you are blue to-night. Come, a little danger will put you on your mettle once more, and you'll forget all about this thing—although I'll allow it's enough to make anybody heart-sick."

Supper was served, and the sun had long since sunk to rest over the vast plain and ocean to the westward, when Ben and Major Morris set out, taking with them an ample supply of ammunition and likewise a day's rations, for they were to move directly into the heart of the enemy's country and might be absent for a day or longer. The object of their going was to find out if a certain Lieutenant Caspard, who had deserted the American ranks, was with the rebels now gathering at Maasin, and if so, whether or not he was acting as an officer of the Filipino forces. If they could catch the deserter and bring him back, they were to be well rewarded. Strange to say, the orders were not to shoot him if it could be avoided.

"It's a strange mission," said Major Morris, as they set out. "But such are Colonel Darcy's orders, and he is backed up in them by the general. Between you and me, I think this Caspard has been playing a double game between our forces and those of the Filipinos, and those at headquarters want to find out just what it means. One man told me that this Caspard was out of his head, and had an idea that he could stop the war by telling the rebels we would grant them everything they want if only they would throw down their arms."

"Would the rebels swallow such a yarn?"

"Some of the more ignorant might. But that isn't the point; Caspard may have given them some military information of vast importance. You must remember we are in a territory that may be full of pitfalls for us," concluded the major.

Ben thought but little of the ending of this speech at the time, but had good cause to remember it before midnight. On they pushed past the picket guard and on to a side road which it was said would bring them around to the north side of Maasin. Both were in fairly good humor by this time, and the major told many an anecdote of army life which made Ben laugh outright. The major saw that his companion was indeed "blue," and was bound to dispel the blues if it could be done.

"And that story puts me in mind of one on General Grant," he continued presently. "Grant was sitting in his tent one night when—"

"Hush!" interrupted Ben, and caught his companion by the shoulder. Then he pointed into the semi-darkness ahead. "Are those rebels, or friends?"

The road they were pursuing was, for the most part, a winding one. But they had now gained a straight stretch, the farther end of which was somewhat in the open. Looking in that direction Ben had discerned six or seven figures stealing silently along, guns on shoulders and packs on their backs.

Major Morris came to a halt and surveyed the figures attentively. "I don't believe they are our men," he whispered. "None of the troops came as far as this—so the general stated."

"Then, if they are rebels, what have they been doing?" went on Ben. "See, they have picks and shovels and axes."

"Perhaps it's an engineering corps," and the major laughed softly at what he considered his little joke. "These Tagals are bound to be up-to-date, you know."

"Well, if they are an engineering corps, what have they been doing?" demanded the young captain, who felt by no means satisfied at his companion's words.

"I'll give it up—no, I won't, I'll go forward and investigate," came from the major. "There they go, around the turn, and walking just as "fast as they can. If we want to catch up to them, we will have to hurry."

"We don't want to get too close, major. They are not the game we are after, remember."

"True, captain, but it won't do any harm to find out what we can of them. We may be doing General Lawton a great service by such an action."

The night was cloudy, and as they pushed forward to the bend in the road it became darker than ever, until they could see hardly anything of what was ahead of them. The way was evidently little used, for the grass grew thickly even in the centre of the highway.

The pair were going on, side by side, and with eyes strained to catch sight of those who had gone before, when suddenly Major Morris felt the ground giving way beneath him. "My gracious!" he ejaculated, and caught Ben by the arm. At the same instant the young captain uttered a cry, and also felt himself going down. Then came the snapping of slender bamboo poles, and the scattering of some loose grass, and down into darkness and space shot the pair, swallowed up utterly by a hole which had unexpectedly opened to receive them.