The Campaign of the Jungle/Chapter 29

CHAPTER XXIX


LARRY IS SENTENCED TO BE SHOT


To go back to Larry, at the time mentioned by Dan Leroy, when the boy had been following the old sailor and the scout along the cliff overlooking the valley in which both the Filipino and the American troops were encamped.

The adventures in the swamp had been exceedingly tiring, and the youth could scarcely drag one foot after the other, as the party of three hurried along over rocks and through thickets which at certain points seemed almost impassible.

"O dear! I'll be glad when this day's tramp comes to an end," he thought. "I wonder how far the American camp is from here?"

He tried to look across the valley, but there was a bluish vapor hanging over trees and brush which shut off a larger portion of the view. The party had been walking over a trail which now brought them directly to the edge of the cliff. Here the
Campaign Jungle P311.jpg

Down went the sapling over the edge of the cliff.—Page 281.

footpath was scarcely two feet wide, and was backed up by high rocks and thorn bushes, around which it was difficult to climb without injury.

The men were as tired as the boy, and it must be confessed that for a half hour or more they paid little attention to Larry. Gradually the youth lagged behind, until those ahead were lost to view around a sharp turn of the cliff.

And it was then that an accident happened which put Larry in great peril all in an instant. In trying to make the turn, the boy got hold of a slender tree by which to support himself. Leroy and Boxer had grasped the same tree, and their swinging around had loosened its frail hold on the rocks, and as Larry grasped it, down went the sapling over the edge of the cliff, carrying the youth with it.

The boy had no time to cry out, and he clung fast, not knowing what else to do, until the tree landed with a mighty crash on the top of another tree at the foot of the cliff. The sudden stoppage caused Larry to loose his hold, and he bumped from limb to limb in the tree below until he struck the ground with a dull thud; and then for the time being he knew no more.

When the boy came to his senses, he found it was night and pitch dark under the thick tree, through the branches of which he had fallen. He rested on a bed of soft moss, and this cushionlike substance had most likely saved him from fatal injury.

His first feeling was one of bewilderment, his next that his left foot felt as if it was on fire, with a shooting pain that ran well up to his knee. Catching hold of the foot, he felt that the ankle was much swollen, and that his shoe-top was ready to burst with the pressure. Scarcely realizing what he was doing, he loosened the shoe, at which part of the pain left him.

"I suppose I ought to be thankful that I wasn't killed," he thought, rather dismally. "I wonder where Leroy and that scout are? I don't suppose it will do any good to call for them. The top of that cliff must be a hundred feet from here."

The fall had almost finished what was left of Larry's already ragged suit, and he found himself scratched in a dozen places, with a bad cut over one eye and several splinters in his left hand. Feeling in his pocket, he found several matches which Leroy had given him on leaving the prison cave, and he lit one of these and set fire to a few dried leaves which, happened to be ready to hand.

The light afforded a little consolation, and by its rays the boy made out a pool of water not far off, and to this he dragged himself, to get a drink and then bathe the ankle. This member of his body had been so badly wrenched that standing upon it was out of the question, as he speedily discovered by a trial which made him scream with pain.

"I'm in for it now," he thought. "With such an ankle as this, I can't go on, and what am I to do here, alone in the woods and with absolutely nothing to eat? I'd be better off in a Filipino prison."

Slowly the night wore along, until a faint light in the east announced the coming of day. During the darkness the jungle had been almost silent, but now the birds began to tune up, and here and there Larry heard the movements of small animals, although none of the latter showed themselves.

It was more pleasant under the big tree than down by the pool, and as daylight came on, Larry dragged himself back to his first resting-place. As he came up to the tree he saw a broken branch resting there and on it a bird's nest containing half a dozen speckled eggs.

"Here's a little luck, anyway," he murmured, and taking some of the tree limbs, he made a fire and cooked the eggs in the hot ashes. When they were done, he broke off the shells and ate the eggs, and although the flavor was by no means to be prized, yet they did much toward relieving the hunger he had felt before taking the fall over the cliff.

The day that followed was one which Larry says he will never forget, and for good reason. Neither human being nor beast came near him, and even the birds flying overhead seemed to give him a wide berth. Time and again he cried out, but the only answer that came back was the echo from the cliff, repeating his own words as if in mockery. Occasionally he heard firing at a great distance, but toward nightfall even this died out. He could scarcely move from his resting-place, and it was not until darkness came on that the pain in his ankle subsided sufficiently to allow of his sleeping in comfort.

The long sleep did the boy a world of good, and when he awakened he found the swelling in his ankle gone down, along with much of the pain, and on getting up he found that he could walk, but it must be slowly and with care. He was again hungry, and his first effort was to supply himself with something to eat.

To bring down even a small animal was out of the question, but he thought he might possibly knock over a bird or two, and with this in view cut himself several short, heavy sticks. The birds were coming down to the pool to drink, and watching his chance he let fly with the sticks and managed to bring down two of the creatures, and these formed the sum total of his breakfast, although he could have eaten twice as many. There were a number of berries to hand, but these he refrained from touching, fearing they might be poisonous.

Larry felt he must now go on. To gain the top of the cliff was out of the question, so he decided to strike out directly for the southwest, feeling that this must sooner or later bring him into the American lines. To be sure, he had first to pass the Filipinos, but this could not be helped, and he felt that the best he could do would be to keep his eyes and ears open and walk around any body of the enemy that he might discover, instead of trying to steal his way straight through. This would require many miles of walking, and on the sore foot, too, but this hardship would have to be endured.

Half a mile was covered in a slow and painful fashion, when Larry reached a small clearing, and here he sat down to rest on a fallen tree and to examine the ankle, which he was afraid was again swelling. He was engaged in looking at the wounded member, when a rough Tagalog voice broke upon his ears.

"What do you here?" demanded a heavy-set native, in his own tongue, as he strode forward, gun in hand, followed by several others.

Larry was startled and leaped up. In a twinkling he found himself surrounded, and several Mausers were levelled at his head.

To resist would have been the height of foolishness, and Larry did not try. The Tagals asked him a number of questions in their own tongue, but he shook his head to show them that he did not understand. On their part, not one could speak English, so neither party could communicate with the other.

The natives, however, soon understood that he was alone, and when he pointed to his ankle and limped, also understood that he had sprained that member. One went into the bushes, and presently returned with some leaves, which he crushed and packed inside of the boy's stocking. The juice of the leaves proved very cooling, and presently much of the pain from the sprain went away.

The Tagals were bound for the cliff, but by a route different from that which Larry had travelled. As the boy was unarmed and could scarcely hobble along, they did not take the trouble to bind him in any way. He was made to march with half of the crowd before him and the others behind; and thus they proceeded until the cliff was reached, at a point where the jungle hid a series of rough steps leading to the top. Beyond the top of these steps was a mountain trail, which by nightfall brought them to a plateau where were encamped at least three hundred Filipinos of all classes, the Tagals predominating.

A shout went up as Larry appeared, and he was at once recognized as one of the prisoners who had escaped from the caves, which were fully four miles away.

"So they have caught you again?" remarked an under-officer, as he strode up with a sinister smile on his swarthy countenance. "You did not get very far."

"No, I had a bad fall and lamed my foot," replied Larry, as cheerfully as he could. He was never one to "cry over spilt milk."

"A fall? Where?"

"I fell over the high cliff just below here."

"And you live to tell it? Impossible!"

"No, it is true. I fell into a large tree, and that broke my fall. But I was badly scratched up, and my ankle was sprained."

"A rare fall truly, boy. It would have been better, though, if you had been killed."

"Thank you; I like that!"

"I say it because you are a prisoner who has tried to escape from us. Do you know the fate of all such?"

At these words Larry could not help but shiver. He knew what the officer up at the cave prison had said,—that any prisoner trying to escape would be shot at the first opportunity which presented itself.

"Surely, you would not kill me for trying to get away?" he cried quickly.

The under-officer shrugged his shoulders. "It is not for me to change our regulations of war, boy. Your words prove that you knew beforehand the risk you were running."

"Yes, yes—but— You would try to get away, too, if our soldiers caught you."

"Possibly—I understand you treat your prisoners very badly."

"Our prisoners are treated as well as yours. And we would not kill a Filipino for having tried to escape,—unless, of course, he was shot in the attempt."

"It is you who say that—I have heard vastly different stories; how our men were starved and shot down without mercy,—not one man, but hundreds of them. I have it from friends in Manila that your General Otis is a monster who would rather kill than save at any time."

"Your friends have told you that which is not true!" exclaimed Larry, warmly. "If anything, General Otis is too kind-hearted, especially with those who have done their best to put the city in a state of rebellion and those who have tried to burn it to the ground. I suppose your friends had a purpose in telling you what was not true."

"I take my friends' words in preference to yours, boy," was the angry answer. "Who are you that come to take our country away from us—the country that we tried so hard to liberate from the iron grasp of Spain? The land is ours, and no Americans shall govern us. We will fight to the last,—from the cities to the towns, and from the towns to the villages, and then to the mountains, from one island to another,—and you shall never conquer us, no matter how large an army you send from across the ocean. But, bah, I am talking to a mere boy, when I might have better sense." And turning on his heel the under-officer strode away, out of humor with himself as well as with Larry.

The youth felt utterly crushed, and sitting down on a rock, with a heart as heavy as lead, he wondered what was going to happen next. Would they really shoot him? The thought was agony itself.

There were no other prisoners in the camp, so he was left for a long time alone, although several soldiers kept their eyes upon him, that he might not wander away. Soon supper was served, and one of the Tagals brought him a bowl of rice and meat. It must be confessed that he was now tremendously hungry, and ate all of what was given him, despite his down-heartedness.

The meal finished, the Filipinos were sitting around their camp-fires, when a certain General Drummo was announced. At once there was a parade, which the general reviewed with satisfaction. The newcomer was served with supper, and then Larry was brought before him.

The general had his head full of his plans for the morrow and gave the boy but scant attention.

"You knew the risk you ran when you stole away," he said, in broken English. "It is true you are but a boy, yet I'll wager you can use a gun better than some of our own men. I cannot pardon you, for that would be setting a bad example. So I hereby sentence you to be shot at sunrise to-morrow,—and may your death be an example to others who are thinking of escape."

Before Larry could say a word, if indeed he wanted to speak, he was led away to a hollow back of the camp. Here he was tied fast to a tree, and two soldiers were detailed to guard him until the hour for his execution should arrive.