AN ADVENTTJEE ON THE PASIG RIVER
"Hurrah, Luke! I reckon I am going to see a bit of fighting at last."
It was Larry who spoke, as he rushed up to his old friend, Luke Striker, now one of the gun captains on board the Olympia. It was the day after the young tar had paid the visit to Ben.
"Fighting? where?" demanded the Yankee gunner. "Do you mean to say as how the Olympia is goin' to do some scoutin' alongshore, lad?"
"No, the ship is going to remain right where she is. But General Lawton is going to take an expedition up the Pasig River from San Pedro Macati to the Laguna de Bay, and some of the sailors are going along to help manage the cascos and other boats. I just applied for a place, along with Jack Biddle, and we both got in."
"And why can't I get in?" returned Luke, eagerly. "This here everlastin' sitting still, doin' nuthin', is jest a-killin' of me."
"You might apply, although there are already more volunteers than they want," answered Larry. He told his old friend how to make the necessary application, and soon Luke had joined the expedition; and the three friends hastened ashore and on board a shallow river transport, which was to take them and a number of others up to San Pedro Macati.
The brief journey to the latter-named village was without incident. Here Larry found assembled a body of about thirteen hundred soldiers, infantry and cavalry, and with them two hundred picked sharpshooters, and two guns manned by members of the regular artillery. Owing to the sickness of the commanding general. General Lawton took personal charge of the expedition.
No man was better fitted for fighting in the Philippines than Major General Henry W. Lawton, who had but lately arrived in the islands, and who was destined to die the death of a hero upon the firing line. Of commanding appearance, being six feet three inches in height and weighing over two hundred pounds, he was a soldier by nature and a natural leader among leaders. He had fought all through the great Civil War with much credit to himself, and it was he who, during the great Apache Indian uprising, followed the crafty Geronimo through mountain and over desert for a distance of nearly fourteen hundred miles, and at last caused him to surrender. For this, it is said, the Indians called him "Man-who-gets-up-in-the-nightto-fight," and they respected him as they respected few others.
With the outbreak of the war with Spain General Lawton was in his element, and when the army of occupation sailed for Santiago he was with them; and it was this same Lawton who stormed El Caney and captured it, as related in "A Young Volunteer in Cuba." When General Shafter wanted to call Lawton away from El Caney, after the troops had been fighting many hours, Lawton sent him word, "I can't stop—I've got to fight," and went forward again; and in less than an hour the Spanish flag at the top of the hill was down, and Old Glory had taken its place.
General Lawton was addressing several members of his staff when Larry first saw him at San Pedro Macati. He stood, war map in hand, in front of the river landing, a conspicuous figure among the half-dozen that surrounded him.
"He's a fighter—you can see that," whispered Larry to Luke, who stood beside him. "Just look at that square-set jaw. He won't let up on the rebels an inch."
"Jest the kind we're a-wantin' out here," responded the Yankee gunner. "The more they force the fightin' the sooner the war will come to an end. He's coming toward us," he added, as General Lawton stepped from out of the circle around him.
"You are from the Olympia, I believe?" he said, addressing Luke.
"Yes, general," replied the old gunner, touching his forelock, while Larry also saluted. "We volunteered for this expedition."
"You look all right, but—" General Lawton turned to Larry. "I'm afraid you are rather young for this sort of thing, my lad," he went on.
"I hope not, sir," cried Larry, quickly. "I've seen fighting before."
"He was in the thickest of it when we knocked out Admiral Montojo, general," interposed Luke. "You can trust him to do his full share, come what may."
"Oh, if he was in that fight I guess he'll be all right," responded General Lawton, with a grim sort of a smile. And he turned away to overlook the shipping of some ammunition on one of the tinclad gunboats which was to form part of the expedition.
The troops were speedily on the cascos, which were to be towed by several steam launches and escorted by three tinclads. Although Larry and his friends did not know it till several hours later, the destination was Santa Cruz, a pretty town, situated on a slight hill overlooking the placid waters of the Laguna de Bay. The general's plan was to reach the lake by nightfall, and steal over the silent waters in the dark until the vicinity of Santa Cruz was gained, in hopes that the garrison might be caught "napping," as it is called.
For the time being the sailors were separated one from another, each being put in charge of a casco, the shallow rowboats being joined together in strings of four to six each, and pulled along with many a jerk and twist by the puffing little launches, which at times came almost to a standstill.
"We won't reach the lake by sunrise, and I know it," remarked one of the soldiers to Larry, who stood in the bow of the casco with an oar, ready to do whatever seemed best for the craft. "We've a good many miles to go yet."
At that instant the casco ahead ran aground in the shallow river, and Larry had all he could do to keep his craft from running into it. As the two boats came stem to stern one of the soldiers in the craft ahead called out to those behind:—
"Say, Idaho, do you know where we are bound?"
"Bound for Santa Cruz, so I heard our captain remark," answered one of the soldiers in Larry's boat. "Got any tobacco, North Dakota?"
"Nary a pipeful, wuss luck," was the response; and then the line straightened out as the casco ahead, cleared herself from the mud, and the two boats moved apart once more.
"Are we really going to Santa Cruz?" questioned Larry, as soon as he got the chance. "I thought we were bound for the north shore of the lake."
"I can only tell you what I heard the captain say," answered the soldier, with a shrug of his shoulder. "General Lawton ain't blowing his plans through a trumpet, you know."
"I hope we do go to Santa Cruz," mused Larry, as he thought of what had been said of Benedicto Lupez. "And if we take the town I hope we take that rascal, too."
The best laid plans are often upset by incidents trifling in themselves. It was the dry season of the year, and the Pasig River, usually broad and turbulent, was now nothing better than a muddy, shallow creek, winding and treacherous to the last degree. As night came on the expedition found itself still in the stream and many miles from the lake, and here cascos and launches ran aground and a general mix-up ensued.
"Hullo, what have we run up against now?" growled the lieutenant in charge of the soldiers in Larry's boat. "Can't you keep out of the mud, Jackie?"
"I'm doing my best," panted the youth, as he shoved off for at least the fourth time. "With the lines forward and aft pulling one way and another it's rather difficult to keep to the channel, especially in the dark."
"Oh, you're only a boy and don't understand the trick," growled the lieutenant, who was in a bad humor generally. "I don't see why they let you come along."
"Our boat is doing about as well as any of them," answered Larry, bound to defend himself. "Two boats are aground to our left and three behind us."
"See here, don't talk back to me! You tend to business and keep us out of the mud," roared the lieutenant, in worse humor than before.
An angry retort arose to Larry's lips, but he checked it. "A quarrel won't do any good," he thought. "But what a bulldog that fellow is—as bad as Quartermaster Yarrow, who caused me so much trouble on the trip out here."
On went the cascos once more, around a tortuous bend and past a bank fringed with bushes and reeds. The mosquitoes were numerous, likewise the flies, and everybody began to wish the journey at an end.
"We'd better make a charge on the insects," growled one old soldier. "They are worse nor the rebels ten times over," and, just then, many were inclined to agree with him. Tobacco was scarce or smoking would have been far more plentiful than it was.
Midnight came and went, and found the expedition still some distance from the lake. A few of the soldiers were sleeping, but the majority remained wide awake, fighting off the marshland pests, and aiding in keeping the cascos and launches from running high and dry in the mud. Had it not been for the tinclads it is doubtful if the Laguna de Bay would have been gained at all by more than half of the craft composing the turnout. But they came to the rescue time and again, and so the expedition crawled along, until, at four o'clock, the clear sheet of water beyond was sighted.
They were making the last turn before the lake was gained when the casco ahead of that steered by Larry went aground once more, dragging Larry's craft behind it. The youth did all he could to back water, but in vain, and once more they heard the unwelcome slish of mud under their bottom.
"Now you've done it again!" howled the lieutenant, leaping up from his seat. "You numskull! give me that oar." And he tried to wrench the blade from Larry's hand.
"It was not my fault," began the youth, when the officer forced the blade from him and hurled him back on one of the soldiers. Then the lieutenant tried to do some poling for himself, and got the oar stuck so tightly in the mud that he could not loosen it.
Burning with indignation, Larry felt himself go down in a heap, and at once tried to get up again. At the same time the soldier beneath him gave him a shove which pitched him several feet forward. He landed up against the lieutenant with considerable force, and in a twinkle the officer went overboard, head first, into the water and mud where the casco had stuck fast.