THE ADVANCE UPON MAASIN
Ben was much surprised and also delighted to learn that Barton Brownell had met Larry, and he lost no time in questioning the escaped soldier regarding his missing brother.
"Yes, your brother was with me about two weeks," said Barton Brownell. "He came up with a detachment of rebels from the Laguna de Bay, after General Lawton left that territory."
"And was he well, or had he been wounded?"
"He was suffering from a cut in the head. A Spaniard had kicked him—and, yes, he told me it was a Spaniard that you and he were after for having robbed a bank of some money."
"Benedicto Lupez!" ejaculated Ben, more astonished than ever.
"That's the name. Your brother had run across that man and his brother at Santa Cruz, and he was trying to make this Benedicto Lupez a prisoner, when the brother kicked him in the head, and then both of them ran away, and when your brother realized what was going on again he found himself a prisoner. He was taken to a camp near the north shore of the Laguna de Bay, and afterward transferred to the cave where I was held."
"I am thankful that he is alive," murmured the young captain, and breathed silent thanks to God for His mercy. "Do you know where they took Larry to?"
"I can't say exactly, but I know that a great many of the rebels are retreating to the mountains back of San Isidro. I wouldn't be surprised to hear of Aguinaldo making his final stand there."
"I would give all I am worth to gain my brother his liberty."
"And I reckon he would give all he is worth to escape," rejoined Brownell. "The boys hate to be kept prisoners, and try all sorts of devices to get away. One fellow had some gold hidden on his person and tried to bribe a guard with it. But the guard only laughed at him and stole the money."
"Of course you do not know what became of Benedicto Lupez and his brother."
"No, your brother knew nothing further than that they ran off after the assault on him," concluded Brownell.
The talking had somewhat exhausted the wounded man and Ben forbore to question him further just then. While Barton Brownell rested easily on some moss, the young captain turned to the commander of the first battalion.
"What shall we do next, major?"
"I think we had better be getting back," was the ready answer. "The sooner we report to the colonel the better he will be pleased."
"I feel like pushing right through to San Isidro, on a hunt for my brother."
"It would be a foolish movement, captain, for, unless I am greatly mistaken, the insurgents have a large force in front of us, and to attempt breaking through would be taking a big risk. Be thankful that your brother is safe thus far. As long as he remains quiet I don't think the rebels will harm him."
Ben could not but believe that this was good advice, and he agreed to do as the major thought best. It was now three o'clock in the morning, and half an hour later they started, thinking to rejoin their command before daylight.
It was an exhausting tramp, the more so because Brownell had to be assisted by one or the other for the entire distance.
"I'm a great drag," sighed the wounded soldier. "Perhaps you had better push on and let me shift for myself." But the major and the captain would not hear of this.
They had one little brush with two of the Filipino pickets before getting into the American lines, but the rebels were young men and not very courageous and let them slip by without great trouble.
It was Major Morris who made the report to the colonel, taking Ben and Brownell with him. Colonel Darcy was greatly interested.
"It is, then, as I supposed," he said. "This information will be of great value to us, Major Morris," and he thanked the major and Ben for what they had done. Brownell's report was also received with close consideration by General Lawton himself.
"If the prisoners have been taken to San Isidro, we must try our best to liberate them," said the general. "I am so glad to learn, though, that the rebels are not ill-treating them, as I had supposed."
It was Ben, assisted by Casey, who saw Brownell to the hospital and had the wounded soldier given every attention. When they parted, Brownell, although now so exhausted that he could scarcely speak, shook the young captain's hand warmly.
"I hope you find your brother soon," he said. "I can imagine how bad it makes you feel to know that he is a prisoner."
The advance of General Lawton's command was now directed at Maasin, a few miles beyond Baliuag. It was led by Colonel Summers, who took with him some Oregon, Dakota, and Third Infantry troops and a battery of the Utah Light Artillery, with other troops following, including Ben's battalion with Major Morris at its head. As before, the advance was along the main road and through the rice-fields, cane-brakes, and the jungle, with the air so oppressive that it felt as though coming out of a steaming oven.
"I dink me I vos right in it from der start, alretty!" exclaimed Carl Stummer, as he plodded along. "Dis vos vorse as der march on Malolos, eh, Tan?"
"Sure, an' it's no picnic," replied the Irish volunteer. "But thin, Carl, me b'y, ye must remimber, we didn't come out here fer fun. We kem out fer to show thim haythins how to behave thimselves an' grow up into useful an' ornamental citizens av the greatest republic that iver brathed th' breath av life."
"Chust so," returned the German volunteer. "But it vos uphill vork, ennahow," and he sighed deeply. Carl could fight as well as any old-time trooper, but the long tramps through the jungle always disgusted him.
There was the river to cross upon which the millhouse was located, and Ben could not help but wonder if the Spanish woman was still at the structure, and how the American deserters had fared. But the mill-house was too far away to visit, and now the battalion was ordered into action on the upper side of the stream.
"Gangway for General Lawton!" was the cry that reached Ben's ears a few minutes later, and then came a crashing of horses' hoofs, and the tall general rode through their open ranks, followed by several members of his staff. As was usual, the general was bound for the firing line, to personally direct the movements of the men under him. Many were the times that the members of his staff urged him not to make a target of himself. He would not listen; and in the end this daring exposure cost the gallant leader his life.
But now all was excitement, for a large force of rebels had been uncovered and there was no telling but what the jungle ahead concealed even more. "We are up against it, fellows!" shouted one of the sergeants. "Let us rush 'em for keeps!" And on swept the battalion, until the steady pop-pop of Mausers and the crack of the Springfields could be heard upon every side.
Ben's company was no longer as large as it had been, for death and disease had sadly depleted the ranks. Yet the forty-six men in the command were now thoroughly seasoned fighters, and all loved their young and dashing leader and would have followed him anywhere.
Presently an orderly dashed up to Major Morris. "Major, Colonel Darcy wishes you to take your command up yonder hill. The rebels have a battery up there, as you can see. If you can rush the position, he will send another battalion to your support."
"Tell Colonel Darcy I will obey the order," answered Major Morris. Then he turned to the four companies. "Boys, we are ordered to take yonder hill and the two field-pieces perched on top of it. Come on, and I will lead you!"
He waved his sword and away went the first battalion on the double quick, two companies to the front. There was first a slight hollow to cross, and then came a thicket of brambles where many a uniform was reduced to rags. The battery at the top of the hill saw them coming and directed a heavy fire at their advance.
"Hot work!" cried the major, as he ranged up alongside of Ben. "I am afraid the carrying out of this order will cost us dear."
"If you'll allow me to make a suggestion, major—" began Ben.
"Make a dozen, captain."
"Why not take a course to the left then."
"For what reason?"
"There is a big rock on that side, on the very top of the hill."
"But we can't climb that rock."
"No, and neither can the rebels fire over it with their field-pieces. When we get up to the rock we can march around it."
"Well spoken, Russell—you're a born strategist," cried the major, who was too generous to have any ill feeling because somebody offered him a suggestion. "We'll go that way." And he immediately gave necessary orders.
But the advance was by no means easy, and soon the battalion found itself under such a galling fire that the men were glad enough to seek the shelter of every rock and bush which came handy. The battery could not do everything, and afraid of having his pieces taken from him, the captain had called upon several companies of the Filipinos to assist him in maintaining his position.
"Down!" suddenly shouted Gilbert Pennington, and down went the men, and the next instant a shell burst directly over their heads.
"This is hot and no mistake," murmured Ben. Then he turned to his command. "Forward, men, the sooner we take that position the better it will be for us." And up the hill he dashed, with Casey, Stummer, and the rest following as best they could, for the way was steep and uncertain. At last the very edge of the big rock was gained, and Company D poured around its left side, to find themselves suddenly confronted by a body of Tagalos fully a hundred strong. In the meantime the other companies under Major Morris were ing up on the opposite side of the rock. Ben was on the point of shouting some additional words of encouragement to his men, when he found himself face to face with a mighty Igorrote warrior, who with his long lance seemed determined to pierce the young captain through and through.