Edward Stratemeyer.

When Santiago Fell: or, The War Adventures of Two Chums





CHAPTER XXV.
ESCAPING THE FLAMES

My situation was truly an appalling one. Here I was, with the fierce fire from the sugar-cane fields swirling about me, my horse and companions gone, left utterly alone, with the horrifying thought that each moment must be my last.

As the horse disappeared in a cloud of eddying smoke, I attempted to rush after him, only to slip in the mire and roll over and over. When I scrambled up I was covered with mud from head to foot, and the live embers from the burning fields were coming down more thickly than ever.

But life is sweet to all of us, and even in that supreme moment of peril I made a desperate effort to save myself. Seeing a pool of water and mud just ahead of me, I leaped for it and threw myself down.

It was a bath far from sweet, yet at that time a most agreeable one. I allowed what there was of the water to cover my head and shoulders and saw to it that all of my clothing was thoroughly saturated. Then I arose again, and, pulling my coat collar up over my ears, leaped on in the direction taken by my companions.

The air was like that of a furnace, and soon the smoke became so thick I could scarcely see the trail. The wind was blowing the fire directly toward me, and to have stood that onslaught for long would have been utterly impossible.

But just as I felt that I must sink, and while I murmured a wild prayer for deliverance, the wind shifted and a cooling current of air reached me. This was wonderfully reviving, and, breathing deeply, I gathered courage and continued on my way.

Almost quarter of a mile was covered, and I had gained the base of the hills, when the wind shifted again, and once more the fire rushed onward and it became so hot I could not breathe except with difficulty.

Mark! Mark! where are you?

It was a most welcome cry, coming from Captain Guerez. In an instant more Alanos father dashed up through the smoke.

Captain Guerez! I gasped, and ran up to his side. Save me!

Where is your horse? he asked, as he caught me up and assisted me to mount behind him.

He ran away.

No more was said. Turning his animal about, Captain Guerez dug his spurs deep into the horses flesh, and away we went up the hillside at a rate of speed which soon left the roaring and crackling sugar-cane fields far behind.

In fifteen minutes we had joined the others of the party, on a plateau covered with stunted grass and well out of reach of the fire. Here it was found that my runaway horse had quietly joined his fellows. I was tempted to give him a whipping for leaving me in the lurch, but desisted upon second thought, as it would have done no good and I knew the animal had only done what I was trying to do save my life.

That was a narrow escape for you, Mark! cried Alano, as he came up with an anxious look on his face. You ought to be more careful about your horse in the future.

You can be sure I will be, Alano, I answered; and then turned to Captain Guerez and thanked him for what he had done for me.

It was hardly dawn; yet, as all had had a fair nights rest, it was determined to proceed on our way and take a somewhat longer rest during the hot noon hour.

This fire will necessitate a change in our course, said Captain Guerez to me.

Will that delay us much?

Not over a few hours.

We will reach Rodania by nightfall.

The captain was right, for it was not yet six oclock when, from the side of one mountain, we saw the buildings of Rodania perched upon the side of another. We traveled across the tiny valley separating the two, and just outside of the town Captain Guerez called a halt.

I think I had better send Jorge ahead and see if the coast is clear, he said. The coming of the negro into town will not be noticed, and he can speedily learn if there are any Spaniards about.

This was agreed upon, and, after receiving his instructions, the colored guide hurried away, to be gone less than half an hour.

Spanish soldiers dare yesterday, he announced. All gone now on the road to Cubineta.

Did they have any prisoners? questioned Captain Guerez.

Yes, dree two Cubans and an Americano.

My father! I cried. Oh, Captain Guerez, cannot we overtake them before they manage to get him to some fort or prison?

Well try our best, Mark, replied Alanos father.

Why cant we travel after them at once? put in Alano, fairly taking the words out of my mouth.

We will, replied his father. The long noontime rest has left our horses still fresh. Forward, all of you! We will take a short cut, and not visit Rodania at all.

During the halt I had taken the opportunity to brush off my clothing, which was now thoroughly dry. I had taken a bath at noon, so now felt once more like myself, although several blisters on my neck and hands, received from the fire, hurt not a little. I told Jorge of the bums, and he ran into the woods for several species of moss, which he crushed between two rocks, putting the crushed pulp on the blisters.

Take burn out soon, he announced; and he was right. In less than half an hour after the application was made the smarting entirely ceased.

We were now in the depths of a valley back of Rodania, and here the trail (they are called roads in Cuba, but they are only trails, and sometimes hardly that) was so choked up with vines and so soft that our progress was greatly impeded, and about eight oclock we came to a halt in the darkness.

The mud beyond is all of two feet deep, and we cant get through it, declared one of the men, who had been sent in advance. Well have to go back.

This was discouraging news, and I looked in perplexity at Alanos father, whose brow contracted.

Ill take a look myself, he said, and, dismounting so that his horse might not get stuck, advanced on foot.

In my impatience I went with him. The way was very dark, and I suggested that a torch be lighted.

An excellent plan, said Alanos father, and immediately cut a cedar branch. By its blaze we were enabled to see quite well, and succeeded in finding another path around the muddy spot.

To save our horses we walked them for half a mile. It was tough traveling, and the clouds of mosquitoes made the journey almost unendurable. I was glad when, at early dawn, we emerged from the valley on a bit of a rise, where the ground was firm and the growth somewhat limited.

A broad highway now lay before us, the main road from Rodania to Cubineta. It was one of the best highways I had seen since leaving Santiago de Cuba, and this was explained by Captain Guerez, who said the road had been put into condition just previous to the breaking out of the war.

As usual, one of the party was in advance, and this was a lucky thing, for about ten oclock the soldier came tearing toward us on his horse and motioning us to take to the woods.

Captain Guerez was on the lookout, and turned to us quickly.

Dismount! he cried in Spanish, and we leaped to the ground, and led our animals into a thicket growing to the left of the highway. The vidette followed us, stating that a large body of Spanish cavalry was approaching.

We forced our horses into the thicket for fully a hundred feet and tied them fast. Then, with cautious steps, we returned to the vicinity of the road and concealed ourselves behind convenient trees and bushes.

By this time a thunder of hoofs could be heard, and soon the cavalry appeared, at least two hundred strong. They were the finest body of men I had seen in the island, and looked as if they had just come over from Spain, their uniforms and weapons were so clean and new. They were riding at a brisk pace, and hardly had we caught a good look at them than they were gone, leaving a cloud of dust behind them.

Captain Guerez was the first to speak, when they were well out of hearing.

Its a good thing we did not run into them, he remarked grimly. "Our little detachment would have stood small chances with such a body of well-armed men."

They form a great contrast to the rebels, I could not help but murmur.

They do indeed, Mark. But why not? The rebels, especially in this district, were never soldiers. When the war broke out they were without uniforms or weapons; and what was and is worse, many of them knew nothing about the use of a firearm. You will find the men in the western provinces, where the whites predominate, both better trained and clothed although, let me add, their hearts are no more sturdy or loyal than you will find here in the East.

Thus talking, we went on and on, until Alano, who had gone ahead this time, came back with the information that Cubineta was in sight.

And the village seems to be under guard of the Spanish soldiery, he added, words which caused me, at least, considerable dismay.

CHAPTER XXVI.
A DISHEARTENING DISCOVERY

Under Spanish guard! I cried, and looked questioningly at Alanos father.

Thats too bad, he said gravely. However, there is no help for this unexpected turn of affairs, and we must make the best of it. Alano, my son, you are sure you are not mistaken?

There are a number of Spanish soldiers on the highway, and with the field-glass I saw that more soldiers were scattered round about.

Then your report must be true. Ill ride ahead and take a view of the situation.

I begged to go along, and Captain Guerez agreed. Alano came too, while the others withdrew to a thicket, to avoid being surprised by any of the Spaniards who might be out foraging.

A turn in the highway brought us in full view of Cubineta. Of course we were not foolish enough to expose ourselves. Screened behind bushes and vines, we took a survey through the glass of the place, its people, and the soldiers.

Cubineta was not a large village, but it was a pretty place and evidently thriving or had been thriving before the war put a blight upon all Cuban industries. There was one long street of stores and dwellings, a church, a casa or town-house, and at the farthest end what looked to be a hastily constructed fort, built of heavy logs and sods.

The Spaniards are evidently going to use the place as a center or depot for supplies, was Captain Guerez' comment. Under the present circumstances I hardly know what is best to do.

Perhaps they have my father a prisoner in that fortress, I suggested.

It is not unlikely, Mark if the men who held him have not yet gone further than Cubineta.

Cant we steal into town under cover of night? I continued.

We might do that if it would do any good.

I want to join my father at any hazard.

That might be very foolish, Mark. How can you assist him if you are yourself made a prisoner?

Would they hold a boy like myself?

You are not so young as you would like to make them imagine, laughed Alanos father shortly. Besides, if left free, they would be afraid you would carry messages for your father. I think the best thing we can do just now is to let Jorge go into town, pretending he is half starved and willing to do anything for anybody who will give him food. By taking this course, no one will pay much attention to him, as there are many such worthless blacks floating about, and he can quietly find his way around the fort and learn what prisoners, if any, are being kept there.

This was sensible advice, and, impatient as I was to catch sight of my parent, I agreed to wait. We rode back to where the others had made their camp, and Jorge was called up and duly instructed. The black grinned with pleasure, for he considered it a great honor to do spy work for such an influential planter as Captain Guerez. Possibly he had visions of a good situation on the plantation after the war was over; but, if so, he kept his thoughts on that point to himself.

Jorge gone, the time hung heavily on the hands of all; but I believe I was the most impatient of the crowd, and with good reason. Alano noticed how uneasily I moved about, and soon joined me.

You must take things easy, Mark, he said. "Stewing wont do any good, and it will only make you sick, combined with this hot weather, which, I know, is about all you can stand."

If only I felt certain that my father was safe, Alano! Remember, he is all I have in the world. My mother has been dead for years, and I never had a brother or a sister.

I think it will all come out right in the end, he answered, doing his best to cheer me up. They wont dare to to He did not finish.

To shoot him? Thats just what I fear they will do, Alano. From what I heard at Santiago de Cuba, the Spaniards are down on most Americans, for they know we sympathize with you and think Cuba ought to be free, or, at least ought to have a large hand in governing itself.

When nightfall came most of the others lay down to sleep. But this was out of the question for me, tired though I was physically, and so I was left on guard, with instructions to call one of the men at midnight.

Slowly the hours went by, with nothing to break the stillness of the night but the hum of countless insects and the frequent note of a night bird. We had not dared to build a campfire, and in consequence there was no getting where the smoke drifted and out of the way of the mosquitoes.

At midnight I took a walk around to see if all was safe. The man I was to call slept so soundly I had not the heart to wake him up, so I continued on guard until one, when a noise down by the road attracted my attention.

Pistol in hand I stalked forward, when I heard a low voice and recognized Jorge. The negro had been walking fast, and he was almost out of breath.

Well? I inquired anxiously. Is my father there?

I think he is, se?or, replied the guide. I go to prison-fort da have six Cubans dare an' one Americano.

My father!

I talk to some men, an' da tell me prisoners come in last night some from Rodania, udders from udder places. Americano in a prison by himself, near the river. I swim up close to dat prison maybe we make hole in wall an' git him out.

Could we do that, Jorge, without being discovered?

Tink so, se?or work at night now, maybe. Swim under river an' come up by fort, den dig with machetes make hole under fort.

If only we could do that! I cried; and then, struck with a sudden idea, I caught Jorge by the arm. Jorge, if I go, will you come and show me the way and help me?

Yes, se?or.

Then let us go at once, without arousing the others. More than two might spoil the plan. Go back to the road and wait for me.

The guide did as directed, and I turned back into camp. Here I awoke the man previously mentioned, and told him I was going off to meet Jorge. He but partly understood, but arose to do guard duty, and I hurried off.

I felt that I was not doing just right in not notifying Captain Guerez and Alano, but I was impatient to meet my father and was afraid if I told them what Jorge had said they would want to delay matters. As events turned out it would probably have been much better had I been guided by their advice.

A short but brisk walk brought the guide and myself in sight of the town. On the outskirts the campfires of the Spanish soldiers burned brightly. These we carefully avoided, and made a d?tour, coming up presently to the bank of the stream upon which the fort was located.

The river was broad and shallow, and as it ran but sluggishly we might have forded across, but this would have placed us in plain view of the sentries, who marched up and down along the river bank and in front of the prison-house.

Disdaining to undress, we dropped down into the stream and swam over, with only our faces out of water, and without a sound, to a spot behind the building opposite. We came up in a tiny hollow, screened by several small bushes, and crawled on our stomachs to the rear of the wing in which the guide said the American prisoner was incarcerated.

I had a long and broad dagger which I had picked up the day previous, and Jorge had his machete, and with these we began to dig a tunnel leading under the wooden wall of the fort. Fortunately, the ground was not hard, and soon we broke through the very flooring of the prison. I was in the lead, and in great eagerness I poked up my head and gazed around me.

Hullo, whos there? cried a startled voice, in English, and my heart sank completely, for the prisoner was not my father at all.

CHAPTER XXVII.
GILBERT BURNHAM

Are you alone? I asked, when I had recovered sufficiently to speak.

An American! came the low cry. Yes, I am alone. Who are you, and what do you want?

I came to save you that is, I thought my father was a prisoner here, I stammered. Are you tied up?

Worse, chained. But I think the chain can easily be broken. If youll help me get away from here, Ill consider myself in your debt for life.

Ill do what I can for you. But keep quiet, for there are a number of guards about, I whispered.

With an effort I squeezed through the hole that had been made, and felt my way to the prisoners side, for the interior of the cell was dark. He had a chain around one wrist, and the chain was fastened by a large staple driven into a log of the wall of the fort.

Jorge had come up behind me, and, learning of the staple, began to cut at the woodwork surrounding it with his machete. The lower end of the blade was fairly keen, and he made such rapid progress that in less than five minutes a sharp jerk cleared the staple from the log, and the prisoner was free.

Good for you, he whispered to the colored guide. Now which is the way out of this hole?

Follow me, and keep very quiet, I whispered, and motioned to Jorge to lead the way.

Soon the guide had disappeared into the opening we had made. Going from the prison was worse than getting in, and the man we were trying to rescue declared the passage-way too small for him.

We commenced to enlarge it, I with my dagger and he with his hands. We had just made it of sufficient size when we heard a cry from outside. Jorge had emerged into the open, only to be discovered by a sentry who chanced to be looking his way. There was a shot, and half a dozen soldiers came running up, at which the guide took to the river with a loud splash.

Im afraid we are lost! I cried, and stopped, half in and half out of the hole. Then the prison door was banged open, and the rays of a lantern flared into the cell.

The American I had discovered promptly showed fight by leaping on the intruder. But this was madness, as the soldier was backed up by four others, all armed with pistols and guns. In the meantime another light flashed from outside the hole, and I felt myself caught, very much like a rat in a trap.

De donde viene V.? [Where do you come from?] demanded a cold, stern voice, and I felt myself grabbed by the hair. Realizing that resistance was useless, I gave myself up, and immediately found myself surrounded by a dozen Spanish soldiers. In the meantime Jorge had made good his escape.

The soldiers marched me around to the entrance of the fort, where an officer began to question me in Spanish. He could speak no English, and as soon as he found my command of Spanish was very limited he sent off for an interpreter. Then I was taken inside the fort and consigned to one of the prison cells.

My feelings can be better imagined than described. Bitterly I regretted having started on my midnight quest without notifying Captain Guerez. My hasty action had brought me to grief and placed me in a position from which escape seemed impossible. What my captors would do with me remained to be seen. That they would treat me in anything like a friendly fashion was out of the question to expect. It was likely that they would hold me as a prisoner of war.

Presently the door of the cell was opened, and somebody else was thrown in bodily and with such force that he fell headlong. The door was banged shut and bolted, and the crowd which had been outside went away.

The new arrival lay like a log where he had been thrown, and for a few minutes I fancied he must be dead from the way he had been treated.

I bent over him, and in the dim light of the early dawn made out that it was the American I had sought to rescue. I placed my hand over his heart and discovered that he still breathed, although but faintly.

There was nothing at hand with which I could do anything for him. My own pockets had been turned inside out by my captors, and even my handkerchief, with which I might have bound up an ugly wound on his brow, was gone. I opened his coat and vest and his shirt around the neck, and gave him as much air as I could.

Oh! he groaned, as he finally came to his senses. Oh! Dont kick me any more! I give in!

Youre all right they have put you in a cell with me, I hastened to reassure him, and then he sat up.

Who what he paused. In a cell, eh? And they caught you, too?

Yes.

Thats too bad. He drew a deep breath. Did you fight with them?

No. I saw it would be no use.

I was a fool to do it. Im too hot-blooded for this sort of work. I ought to have stayed in Boston reporting local affairs.

Are you a reporter?

Hush! Yes; but I dont want it to become known if I can help it. They think I am nothing more than an inquisitive American.





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