NEWS OF LARRY
For a minute after the Spanish woman finished, nobody in the mill-house spoke. Her tale had impressed both Ben and the major deeply, and they looked with cold contempt at the two regulars who had so disgraced the uniform they wore.
"This is a fine doings, truly," said Major Morris, at length. "I wonder what your commander will say when he hears of it."
"If you please, they have deserted the American army," put in the woman. "They said as much while they were drinking my husband's wine."
"It ain't so! " burst out the older regular, fiercely. "And that woman has told you a string of—"
"Shut up!" interrupted the major, sternly. "I will take this lady's word against yours every time—after what I have witnessed of both of you. Your name, please?"
"I ain't telling my name jest now," was the sullen response.
"Aren't you?" Up came the major's pistol again. "Your name, I said."
"And what is yours?" went on the commander of the first battalion, turning to the younger regular.
The man hesitated for a second. "My name is Jerry Crossing."
"Indeed! How is it your mate called you Bill awhile ago?"
"I don't believe either of the names is correct," went on the major.
"He is called Bill, and the other is Yadder," put in the Spanish woman. "I heard the names many times."
"Then that will answer, since I also have your company and regiment. Now, then, throw down your cartridge belts."
"Throw 'em down?" howled the regular called Bill.
"That is what I said. Throw them down at once."
"But see here, major—"
"I won't stop to argue with you. Throw the belts down, or take the consequences."
"And what will the consequences be?" questioned Yadder.
"The consequences will be that I will form myself into a court-martial, find you guilty of desertion, and shoot you down where you stand. Come, do those belts go down or not?"
"I reckon they go down," grumbled Yadder; and unloosening the article, he allowed it to slip to the floor, seeing which, his companion followed suit.
"Now both of you hold your hands over your heads, while Captain Russell searches you for concealed weapons."
"We ain't got no concealed weapons."
"I didn't ask you to talk, I told you to hold up your hands."
With exceeding bad grace the two deserters, for such they really proved to be, held up their arms. Approaching them, Ben went through one pocket after another and felt in their bosoms. Each had a long native knife, such as are usually used in the rice-fields.
"I suppose you do not call those concealed weapons," was Major Morris's comment, as Ben came over to him with the knives and the cartridge belts. The rascals' guns stood back of the door behind the commander of the first battalion.
"It ain't fair to take everything away from us," began Yadder, when two shots, fired in rapid succession, cut him short. The shots came from up the stream and not over fifty yards from the mill-house. Soon followed a shouting of voices, and all in the place knew that a band of rebels were approaching.
"They are after somebody!" exclaimed Ben. "They are coming—"
The young captain got no further, for just then there sounded a clatter on the outer steps, and a second later an American soldier burst into the mill-house. He was in tatters, and his left arm hung limply by his side, for he had been shot in the shoulder.
"Americans!" he gasped, as he cast a hurried glance about. "Thank God for that! The rebels are after me, half a dozen strong."
"He went up into the house!" came from without, in the Tagalog dialect.
"After him, men, the Americano must not escape us!"
And then footsteps were heard around the house and on the stairs. Ben and the major looked at each other questioningly. What was to be done?
"The trap," whispered the young captain. "If they come up here, we can escape through that."
There was no time to say more, for already the rebels were coming up the stairs, shouting loudly for the escaped Americano to give himself up. They advanced in a body, evidently not caring to separate in the darkness, and thinking to find the man alone.
With quick wit Ben ran and placed the table against the door, and on this piled the bench.
"Now the trap, and be quick!" he whispered, and Major Morris understood. Flinging open the door in the floor he looked down, to behold the stream flowing beneath.
"Follow me—it's the best way out," he said to the escaped prisoner. Then he dropped down, holding his pistols over his head, that they might not get wet.
The wounded man was in a desperate humor and lost no time in following. By this time the rebels were hammering lustily on the door which Ben was holding shut.
"What are we to do?" demanded the older of the deserters. "Are you—"
"You can take care of yourselves," answered the young captain, and rushing over to the trap-door he let himself through, closing the trap after him. Then came a plunge into the water, but the stream here was less than four feet deep, and he followed Major Morris and the wounded man to the bank without difficulty. A loud shouting came from overhead, followed by a storm of words from both rebels and deserters, and also from the Spanish woman. Fortunately for the woman, among the rebels was a nephew, who at once came to her aid, and had the two deserters from the American army made prisoners.
"We had better put a little distance between ourselves and that mill," suggested Major Morris, as all three shook the water from their lower garments.
"How is it? are you badly wounded?" asked Ben, turning to their newly made companion.
"Oh, I can go ahead," said the soldier. "It's rather painful, though."
"We'll take care of it for you at the first chance we get," added Ben; and then the three set off at a brisk pace along the stream and over the rocks to a grove in which they felt they would be comparatively safe until daylight, if no longer.
As the mill-house was left behind, all became quiet, and in the grove nothing disturbed them but the hum of the insects and the occasional cry of some night bird.
Lighting a match, Ben examined the man's wound and bound it up with the major's handkerchief, his own having been left behind with the Spanish woman. The stranger said that his name was Barton Brownell.
"I have been a prisoner of the insurgents for some time," he said, when asked to tell his story. "I was captured just before our troops took Malolos. They had six prisoners all told, and they took us to a place called Guinalo, which is probably forty miles from here, and up in the mountains."
"While you were a prisoner did you see or hear anything of a Lieutenant Caspard?" asked Major Morris, quickly.
"To be sure I did!" burst out Barton Brownell. "He came to see me several times. He has joined hands with the insurgents, and he wanted me to join them, too. But I told him I would rot first," added the wounded man, and his firmness showed that he meant what he said.
"And was Caspard in the field with the rebels?"
"Yes. He was hand in glove with General Luna and the other rebel leaders, and I think he had turned over some messages from General Otis's headquarters to the rebels. But, candidly speaking, I think Lieutenant Caspard is somewhat off in his head. Once he came to me and said that if only I and the other prisoners would join him, we could end this shedding of blood inside of a week."
"He must be crazy, to join the rebels," put in Ben. "Does he hold any position under them?"
"They call him capitan, but if he has such a position, it is merely a nominal one. I think the natives are beginning to suspect that he is not quite right in his mind. But still they love to hear him praise them, and they swallow a good bit of what he says, like so many children."
For the moment Major Morris was silent. Then he turned to Ben. "Our mission seems to have come to a sudden end," he said. "Brownell can tell Colonel Darcy all he wants to know." And he related to the escaped prisoner the reason for their coming beyond the American lines.
"Yes, I reckon I can tell the colonel well enough," answered Barton Brownell. " For I saw Caspard often, as I mentioned before, and he never knew what it was to keep his tongue from wagging."
"And how did you escape? " asked Ben, with interest.
"In a very funny way," and the soldier laughed. "As I said before, we were kept up in the mountains, in a large cave. There were six of our troop, but all told the prisoners numbered twenty-eight. There was a guard of four rebels to keep us from escaping, and an old woman called Mother Beautiful, becavise she was so ugly, used to cook our food for us—and the food was mighty scanty, I can tell you that.
"Well, one day two of the guards went off, leaving the old woman and the other two guards in sole charge. There had been a raid of some kind the day before, and the guards had some fiery liquor which made them about half drunk. The old woman got mad over this, and she was more angry than ever when one of the guards refused to get her a pail of water from a neighboring spring. 'I'll get the water, mother,' says I, bowing low to her, and would you believe it, she made the two guards let me out, just to get her the water."
"And the water hasn't arrived yet," said Major Morris, laughing.
"No, the water hasn't arrived yet," answered Barton Brownell. "As soon as I reached the spring I dropped the pail and ran for all T was worth, and hid in the brush along the mountain side. I stayed there two days and nearly starved to death. Then they hunted me out, and I received this wound. But I escaped them and made my. way through the jungle and over the rice-fields to here, and here I am."
"You say there were twenty-eight prisoners all told," cried Ben. "Did you ever hear anything of my brother, Larry Russell?"
"Larry Russell? " repeated Barton Brownell, thoughtfully. "To be sure I did. He is a sailor from the Olympia, isn't he?"
"Yes! yes! And was he with you?"
"He was, at first. But he wasn't when I left. They moved some of the prisoners away, and he was among them. So he was your brother? That beats all, doesn't it—to think I should fall in with you in such a place as this!"