The Campaign of the Jungle/Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII


THE RETREAT TO THE RICE-HOUSE


Larry was greatly alarmed, not knowing but that his companion was about to die on his hands. Quickly he knelt at the Yankee's side, to learn that Luke had fainted away from loss of blood. The shoulder of his shirt and jacket were saturated through and through.

"What shall I do?" the boy asked himself, and gazed hurriedly at the surroundings. To one side of the road were several nipa huts, to the other a long, rambling warehouse. The doorways of all the buildings stood open, and no one seemed to be in sight.

As quickly as he could the youth took up his friend and staggered with his heavy burden to the warehouse, which was about half filled with rice. Entering the structure, he passed to a small apartment somewhat in the rear. Here there was a quantity of old sacking in a heap, and upon this rude couch Larry placed the unconscious form.

The boy had been taught on shipboard just what to do in case of such an emergency, and now he worked as he never had before, for Luke was very dear to him, and the thought that his friend might die was horrible to contemplate. He prayed to Heaven that the old gunner's life might be spared to him.

The wound was an ugly one; yet even to Larry's inexperienced eye it did not look as if it could be fatal, and the boy breathed a long sigh of relief as he bound it up. Then he went in search of water, and finding a well back of the warehouse brought a bucketful in and began to bathe Luke. Soon the sufferer stirred and opened his honest eyes wonderingly.

"Why—er—how's this?" he stammered. "Did I—oh, I remember now!" And he sank back again.

"Keep quiet," whispered the boy. He had heard voices coming toward the warehouse. "If you make a sound, it may be all up with both of us."

The old tar breathed heavily and nodded. Throwing some sacking over the prostrate form, Larry slipped back into the main apartment of the warehouse. He still held the gun, but it was empty and could be used only as a club.

Two men were approaching the warehouse, both tall, slim, and evidently of Spanish extraction. They were talking loudly and excitedly to one another; but as Larry understood but few words of Spanish, what they were saying was lost upon the boy.

"I don't believe they are after us," thought the lad, when the strangers came to a halt just outside the warehouse. As they did so a long volley of rifle shots came from a distance, followed by another and then another. The shooting came from the centre of the town and made Larry's heart beat fast. "Our soldiers must be coming in," he thought. "Oh, I hope they make the town ours!"

The shots appeared to disturb the two Spaniards greatly, for both clutched each other by the arm and looked thoroughly frightened.

Presently an old woman came running out of one of the huts. She yelled at the two Spaniards in her own tongue and pointed at the warehouse. Evidently she had seen Larry and Luke, but had been afraid to expose herself.

The strangers listened to the old woman with interest, then began to talk to each other. "Perhaps we can get some information, José," said one, in Spanish.

"Perhaps we shall get a bullet," answered his companion, grimly. Nevertheless, he consented to enter the building, and both passed through the great doorway of the warehouse.

Hardly knowing how to receive the newcomers, Larry stepped for a moment behind a bin of rice. But then, as the pair moved toward where Luke lay, he raised his gun threateningly.

"Halt!" he called, as sternly as he could. "Halt, or I shall fire!"

"We are betrayed!" roared one of the Spaniards, in his native tongue. "No shoot! no shoot!" he added, in broken English. "We mean you no harm."

"Up with your hands, then," went on Larry, resolved to make the most of the situation, even though the gun was empty; and four hands went promptly into the air, for the two men before him were as cowardly as they were unprincipled.

There was an awkward silence for several seconds, while boy and men surveyed each other. Larry lowered the gun slightly, but still kept his finger on the trigger. He noted that the newcomers appeared to be unarmed, although they had both knives and pistols hidden upon their persons.

"You are an Americano sailor, not so?" asked one of the Spaniards.

"I am," was Larry's prompt reply. "Are you one of Aguinaldo's rebels?"

"No, no! We are no rebels—we are peaceful Spanish gentlemen," put in the second Spaniard.

"Do you belong here?"

"I belong here," said the man who had first spoken. "My brother, he belongs at Manila."

The brother mentioned shot an angry glance at the speaker. "Yes, I come from Manila," he said. "But I belong truly in Spain, being a merchant of Madrid."

"Well, our war with you folks is over," said Larry, slowly, hardly knowing how to proceed. "If you are not going to help the rebels, you ought to help us. We are doing all we can for your prisoners out here," he added, meaning the Spaniards that were being held by the forces under General Aguinaldo—soldiers who were captured during the struggle between Spain and her Philippine colonies.

"We can do but little," came with a shrug of the shoulders. "We are not armed, and if we help the Americanos, Aguinaldo says he will behead all the Spanish prisoners he is holding." Such a threat was actually made, but it is doubtful if the Filipinos would have been base enough to carry it out.

"We came in here not to make trouble," went on the second Spaniard. "We came to learn what the firing means. Are the Americanos coming here in force?"

"They are."

"Then Santa Cruz is doomed," groaned the Spaniard. He dropped his hands and began to pace the warehouse floor. "I shall lose much if the city falls. The rebels will burn all my property, for they hate me."

"I trust not," answered Larry, his fear of the pair gradually leaving him. "Hark to that!" he added, as the rattle of guns was again heard. " Our men must be coming in fast, and orders are to save everything that can be saved. If the rebels—"

He broke off short as a cry from Luke reached him. Running to the Yankee sailor he found Luke kicking out vigorously with his foot.

"I couldn't keep still no longer, nohow!" burst out the old tar. "A plagued rat came right up and wanted to nibble my leg, hang him. Who's them air fellows out thar?"

But the Spaniards had already followed Larry, and were now gazing at Luke in wonder. "Wounded, not so?" said one. "You were in the fight, then."

"No, we escaped from the prison," answered Larry, simply. "We were captured during last night. I wish I was sure we'd be safe here until our soldiers come along." He turned to the old sailor again. "How do you feel now?"

"Better, Larry, a heap better. But I ain't ready fer no more foot races jest yet."

"Then we'll have to remain here. Or perhaps you had better remain here while I go scouting around and see if I can find some of our soldiers, or the ambulance corps."

"An' what o' these gentlemen?"

"We shall go, too," said one of the Spaniards. "Your friend will be safe here—if he keeps hidden under the sacks," he added.

Waiting for the strangers to move first, Larry came behind them, still holding the gun as though the weapon were ready for use. The men had spoken fairly enough, yet there was that about them which did not please Larry in the least. "They are regular rascals, or else I miss my guess," thotight the youth.

The roadway still seemed deserted. But far off they could see the natives flying in several directions. Then from a distance came a cheer which Larry knew could only come from American throats.

"Our soldiers must be over there," he said to the Spaniards. "Will you come with me?"

The men hesitated, and consulted together in their native tongue. "I do not know what to say," said one, slowly, and began to follow Larry along the highway. Seeing this, the other came, too.

Suddenly a loud shout came to them from a thicket back of some nipa huts, and instantly a band of insurgents burst into view, armed with guns and bolos. They were firing as they retreated, and made a stand on the opposite side of the road.

"José Lupez!" cried one of the officers of the rebels, addressing one of the two Spaniards. "What do you here?"

"And have I no right here?" asked the Spaniard, sharply.

"Who is that with you?"

"My brother, Benedicto, from Manila, who was visiting me."

"He has betrayed us into the hands of the Americanos! If he—"

The rest of the sentence was drown out in a volley of musketry, and two rebels were seen to fall. Some started to run, but others held their ground.

Larry listened in amazement. He had heard the names José Lupez and Benedicto, and knew that the two Spaniards were brothers. Could this Spaniard, Benedicto Lupez, be the man who had made off with the money Braxton Bogg had stolen from the Hearthstone Saving Institution?