The Campaign of the Jungle/Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI


IN WHICH LUKE STRIKER IS WOUNDED


The plan to surprise Santa Cruz had failed, yet General Lawton's command was just as eager as ever to press forward and do battle with the native garrison, of which the town on the Laguna de Bay boasted. It was thought the Filipino command could not be a strong one, and even if it had been the Americans would have gone ahead just the same, so accustomed were they to victory over their misguided foes.

It was arranged that the centre and left wing of the infantry should move directly upon the town, while the right wing should swing around, to cut off the Filipinos' retreat, should they start such a movement. In the meantime, protected by a cross fire from the tinclads, Laguna and Oeste,^ the cavalry landed on the hill overlooking the bay, and began to do battle with the enemy's force in that territory, cutting its way over field and brush to the left wing as it swung closer to the river already mentioned several times. The cavalry developed a strong resistance which lasted for over an hour; but in the end the Filipinos were glad enough to fall back into the town proper.

Out on the main road leading to the principal bridge over the river the sun was boiling hot, and many a soldier felt more like seeking shelter and resting than like pushing forward with his heavy gun and other equipments. But General Lawton was here and there, encouraging every one, and they pushed on until a sharp fire between the enemy and the advance guard told that a running fight, and perhaps a regular battle, would soon be at hand.

"At them, my men!" cried the various commanders. "They'll run, no doubt of it. They haven't stood up against us yet!" And away went the long skirmishing line, and soon there was a steady crack and pop of guns and pistols as the Americans pushed on, catching many a poor Filipino who was too late in either running or throwing down his arms. A number surrendered, and these were promptly sent to the rear.

Presently the river was gained, and here the Americans came to an unexpected halt. There was along bridge to cross, and beyond was a barricade of stone and wood. Were the insurgents massed behind that barricade? If they were, to cross the bridge in column of fours or otherwise would mean a terrible slaughter.

"Here goes!" sang out one petty officer, and made a dash forward, which was as reckless as it was daring. As he moved along the bridge several held their breath, expecting to see him go down at any instant. But then came a rush of first half a dozen, then a score, and then whole companies, and it was speedily seen that the barricade was practically deserted. The insurgents were hurrying into the town as hard as they could, with Uncle Sam's men after them, both sides keeping up a steady firing as they ran.

In the meantime, soaked to the skin and utterly miserable over their capture, Larry and his Yankee friend had been thrust into the prison cell and left to themselves. After the door was locked and the jailer walked away, the youth uttered a long-drawn sigh.

"Luke, we're in a pickle, this trip," he groaned. "What do you suppose they will do with us?"

"Heaven alone knows, my lad," responded the old tar. "Bein' as how they ain't cannibals, I don't reckon they'll eat us up," and he smiled grimly.

"They think we are spies."

"Thet's so."

"Do you know that they shoot spies—and do it in short order, too?"

"And why shouldn't I know it, Larry? I've heard tell on it often enough. But they have got to prove we air spies first, ain't they?"

"They'll do what they please. I believe half of these Filipinos think the Americans are nothing but cut-throats. They can't conceive that we should want to come here and govern them for their own good."

"Because they would rather govern themselves, even if they made a mess of it, than be under anybody's thumb nail, Larry. Howsomever, thet ain't the p'int jest now. The p'int is, kin we git out o' here before they settle to do wuss with us?"

"Get out? You mean break jail?"

"Exactly. We don't want to stay here if we kin git out, do we?"

"To be sure not." Larry leaped up from the bench upon which he had been resting and ran to the door. At this Luke smiled glumly and shook his head.

"Ye won't go it thet way, lad—the guard locked it, I seen him do it,—and the lock is a strong one, too."

Luke was right, as a brief examination proved. Then the boy turned to the window, an affair less than a foot square, having over it several iron bars set firmly into the stones. "No thoroughfare there," was his comment.

The two next examined the floor, to find it of brick, and as solid as the walls. "Only the ceilin' left now," said Luke. "I reckon we might as well give it up. Even if we do git out, more'n likely a guard outside will shoot us down."

But Larry was determined to test the ceiling, which was but a couple of feet over their heads. So he had his companion hold him for that purpose.

"There is a loose board up there," he cried, as he was feeling his way along. "Hold me a little higher, Luke, and perhaps I can shove it up."

The old sailor did as requested, and with a strong push Larry shifted one end of the plank above, so that it left an opening ten inches wide and several feet long. Catching a good hold he pulled himself to the apartment above, to find it stored with boxes and barrels containing old military uniforms and other army equipments, relics of Spanish rule.

"Any way out up thar?" queried Luke. "If there is, we don't want to waste any time, ye know."

"I'll tell you in a minute," replied Larry, in a low voice, and ran first to one end window of the storeroom and then the other. In front was the street, fast filling with soldiers. In the rear was a stable which just now seemed deserted. The several windows of the storeroom were all barred, but here the bars were screwed fast to wood instead of being set in stone.

"I think there is a chance here," said the boy, coming back to the opening. "Here, give me your hand, and I'll help you up," and he bent down; and soon Luke stood beside him.

"Think we can git out thet way, eh!" said the Yankee tar, surveying the prospect in the rear. "Well, I reckon it's worth workin' for, Larry. But the drop from the window, even if we pull away the bars—"

"Here is a rope—we can use that," answered the boy, pointing out the article around several small boxes. While Luke pried away the bars of one of the rear windows he possessed himself of the rope, and tied it fast to a bar which was not disturbed. As soon as the opening was sulBciently large to admit of the passage of each one's body, Luke swung himself over the window-sill.

"Come on," he cried softly, and slipped from view. Never had he gone down a ship's rope quicker, and never had Larry followed his friend with such alacrity. Both felt that life or death depended upon the rapidity of their movements.

The ground was hardly touched by Luke when a Filipino boy appeared at the entrance to the stable. For an instant the youth stared in opened-mouthed astonishment, then he uttered a yell that would have done credit to an Indian on the war-path.

"The jig's up!" cried the Yankee tar. "Come, Larry, our legs have got to save us, if we're to be saved at all."

He leaped across the yard and for the corner of the stable, where he collided with a Tagal soldier, who was coming forward to learn what the yelling meant. Down went both the sailor and the guard; but the rebel got the worse of it, for he lay half stunned, while Luke was up in a trice. As the soldier fell, his gun flew from his hands, and Larry tarried just long enough to pick the weapon up.

Behind the stable was a narrow, winding street, lined on either side with huts and other native dwellings, with here and there a barnlike warehouse. Into this street darted our two friends, and there paused, not knowing whether to move toward the wharves or in the opposite direction.

"Look out!" suddenly yelled Larry, and dropped flat, followed by the Yankee tar. A sharp report rang out, and a bullet whistled over their heads, coming from the prison yard. On the instant Larry flred in return, and the prison guard disappeared as if by magic. Long afterward, Larry learned that he had hit the Tagal in the arm.

There was now a general alarm throughout the prison, and the two escaped prisoners felt that any other locality would be better for them than the one they now occupied. "Let us try to find our soldiers," said Luke, and once again they started to run, this time up the road where, far away, they could make out a forest of some sort. Then came a second report, and Luke Striker staggered back, hit in the shoulder.

"Luke! Luke, you are struck!" gasped Larry. His heart seemed to leap into his throat. What if his dearest friend had been mortally wounded?

"I—I—reckon it—it ain't much!" came with a shiver. The sailor straightened himself up and started to run again. "They are after us hot-like, ain't they?"

A turn in the road soon took them out of sight of the prison, and they breathed a bit more freely. But the strain was beginning to tell upon Luke, and watching him, Larry saw that he was growing deathly pale.

"You can't keep this up, Luke," he said, and put out his arm to aid his friend. As he did so, the Yankee tar gave a short groan, threw up both hands, and then sank down in a heap at the boy's feet.