THE ADVANCE INTO THE JUNGLE
Santa Cruz had been taken, but there was still much to do around the shores of the Laguna de Bay to make it safe territory for the Americans to hold. From the city the rebels were pursued eastward, and a number of cascos and larger boats were captured. Inside of a few days Paete, Longos, Lumban, and several other villages, were visited by detachments of General Lawton's command, and the insurgents fled in each instance, leaving all behind them. Nearly a hundred who stopped to fight were either killed or wounded, and victory was entirely upon the side of the Americans.
But now it was learned that the forces undet General Aguinaldo and General Luna were concentrating once more to the north and east of Malolos, and much as he regretted the necessity. General Otis was compelled to order General Lawton and his command back to the territory above Manila. No garrisons could be spared for Santa Cruz, or the other places captured, so these settlements were allowed to fall once more into the hands of the enemy, after all the fortifications had been destroyed and the arms and munitions of war confiscated. It seemed a pity to leave these towns and villages after having once taken them, but to garrison them properly would, according to General Lawton's estimate, have taken thousands of soldiers.
With the taking of Santa Cruz, the Americans marched through all the streets and by-ways, looking for lurking rebels and hidden arms, and in this search a squad of infantry came upon Luke Striker, who had propped himself up on the sacking in the warehouse and was making himself as comfortable as possible.
"Hullo, sailor," cried the sergeant in charge of the squad. "Where did you come from?"
Luke's story was quickly told, and he begged the soldier to look for Larry, fearing that serious harm had befallen the lad. At once two soldiers were detailed to care for the old Yankee, while the rest went on a hunt which lasted far into the night.
"Hullo, sailor, where did you come from?"—Page 82.
"If they've captured him, he's a goner, I'm afraid," he said to Jack Biddle, who had come in to help look after his messmate. "Poor Larry! What will his brother Ben say, when he hears of it?"
"Better not tell him right away," suggested Biddle. "Give him a chance to get strong fust. Besides, Larry may give 'em the slip. He's putty cute, ye know."
The news soon spread that Larry and several others were missing, and a description of the absent ones was given out. The next day one of the missing soldiers was found dead in the jungle, but nothing was learned of the others.
"It serves the young sailor right," growled Lieutenant Horitz. "He knew too much for his own good," He had not forgotten the disaster on the river, and secretly he wished Larry all manner of ill-luck. During the rush through the woods the Lieutenant had tumbled and struck his nose on a stone. That member was much swollen and cut in consequence, and this put him in a worse humor than ever before.
By the time the expedition was to return to Manila, Luke was able to walk around again, and he was put on one of the larger boats and Jack Biddle was detailed to look after him. The return to Manila was made without special incident, and two days later found Luke on board the Olympia among all his old friends.
But the Yankee tar was thoroughly out of sorts. "I wouldn't care for the wound at all, if only I knew Larry was safe," he was wont to say a dozen times a day. Barrow, Castleton, and all the boy's old friends were likewise troubled because of his strange disappearance.
It was Jack Biddle who got shore leave and travelled up to Malolos to break the news to Ben. He found the acting captain of Company D just preparing to take his place in the command once more.
"I'm glad to see you lookin' well, leftenant," he said, after shaking hands warmly. "Ye look almost as healthy as ye did on the voyage from Brooklyn to Manila."
"And I feel almost as well," replied Ben. "The rest has done me a world of good. But what brought you up, Jack? Did Larry come with you?"
"No, Larry didn't come," stammered the old tar, and looked down at the floor. "Fact is, leftenant, Larry—he—he couldn't come."
"Couldn't come? Why, what's the matter?" cried Ben, quickly. "Is he sick?"
"I reckon not—leas'wise, I don't know. Fact is, leftenant, none on us know. Ye see, he went upon thet Santa Cruz expedition—"
"Yes, yes, I know that. And what of it? Was he—was he—" Ben could not utter the words which came to his mind.
"No, he wasn't shot, thet is, so far as we know. But he's—well, he's missin', an' we can't find hide nor hair o' him anywhere. I might ez well tell ye fust ez last, though it cuts my heart to do it, leftenant." And Jack Biddle shook his head dubiously.
It was a great shock to Ben, yet he stood it better than the old tar had expected. He asked immediately for details, and though he drank in every word his manner showed that his thoughts were far away.
"I wish I had been along," he said bitterly. "If he wasn't killed, the Filipinos must have carried him off a pretty good distance. I wonder if General Lawton tried to find out anything under a flag of truce."
"Everything that could be done was done—I have Captain Gaston's word on that," answered Jack Biddle. Captain Gaston and Ben were well known to each other.
Ben sank down on a bench, and for several minutes said not a word, but the tears stood in his eyes, tears which he hastily dried that nobody might see them. Then Gilbert Pennington came in, to tell him that the regiment was ordered to move within the hour.
"It's too bad!" declared the young Southerner. "But brace up, Ben, 'While there is life there is hope,' and it's a pretty sure thing that he wasn't killed." And with this ray of comfort Ben had to be content.
During the days that General Lawton had been in the vicinity of the Laguna de Bay, the regiment to which Ben and Gilbert belonged had not been idle. With a number of other troops they started for the town of Santa Maria, where they came upon the enemy and dislodged them with shells. The town, already in flames, was allowed to burn, and the Americans pursued the rebels quite a distance into the mountains, but falled to catch them.
In the meantime the camp of the Third Artillery, situated some distance to the west of Malolos, was attacked. A fierce engagement in the swamps took place, and in the end the rebels were driven northward and began then to concentrate at Tarlac, which soon became one of their new capitals—they shifting the seat of government as often as it suited their convenience.
It was now felt by General Otis and others in command that no time should be lost in an endeavor to round up the insurgents to the north of Malolos, who were the main support of the rebellion, although scattering bands were still operating to the south and southeast. The rainy season was but a few weeks off, and once this set in military operations would be much retarded, if not stopped altogether, for, taken as a whole, the roads throughout the Island of Luzon are bad, and heavy rains render them well-nigh impassable.
In order to make the campaign against the rebels as effective as possible. General Otis decided to send out two columns, one under General MacArthur to strike out for Calumpit, and the second, under General Lawton, to take a route to the eastward, along the base of the hills leading to San Isidro. By this it was hoped, if the rebels at Calumpit were defeated and tried to take to the mountains, they would fall directly into Lawton's hands, and not only have to surrender but also give up all their war supplies.
It was in the furtherance of this plan that General Lawton left Manila with his brigade and struck out for Novaliches which was gained after a small skirmish at Tuliahan River. From here the column moved to Norzagaray to await reënforcements which were coming in from Malolos and vicinity. To these reënforcements belonged the command to which Ben and Gilbert were attached.
It had begun to rain, and those who understood tropical weather predicted that the wet season was at hand. Yet it was very hot, and the water which fell arose in clouds of steam on the road, rendering marching anything but comfortable.
"Sure, an' it makes a man feel as if he, was takin' a stame bath, so it does," remarked Dan Casey, as he swung along on the route step. "I don't know as I iver see it rain hot wather before, bedad," he added, as he wiped the perspiration from his sadly freckled face.
During the day's march, which was trying to everybody, Ben was silent, wondering what had become of Larry and if he would ever again see his younger brother. When the command went into camp under the shelter of a grove of tall trees, both Gilbert and Major Morris visited his tent to comfort him.
"He is not the only one who is missing," remarked the major of the first battalion. "So far I understand the warships have lost about a dozen men who went ashore and failed to return. And you know there are six men missing from our own regiment."
"That is true, major," was the acting captain's answer. "But it's only when it's a close relative that the blow really comes home to one, you know."
"I suppose that is true, captain. But don't be disheartened. It may be that your brother is already back at Manila."
"I can't see what the rebels would do with him as a prisoner," said Gilbert. "They have to move around so lively that I can't see what they want with prisoners anyway."
And so the talk ran on until it came time to retire. That night Ben slept but little, and it was not the rain or the aching of his wound that kept him awake either. He was bound to think of Larry constantly until something was heard of the missing lad.