Edward Stratemeyer.

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





Wont we strike some settlement before that? I asked.

Oh, yes; we are on the outskirts of Los Hanios now.

Five minutes later we rode into a small village occupied principally by half a hundred cattlemen, for we were now coming to the meadows and valleys in which immense herds of cows and sheep are pastured. The people of Los Hanios took but little interest in the revolution, and as a consequence had been but little molested either by the Spaniards or Cubans, although a portion of their cattle had been confiscated.

From one of the head cattlemen Captain Guerez learned that a body of Spaniards had passed through the village the afternoon before bound for Santiago. They had several prisoners, who were tied hands and feet, and fast to the mules which carried them. At least one of the prisoners had been un Americano.

At Los Hanios we procured dinner, a splendid meal the best I had eaten since leaving the steamer, for it consisted of prime roast beef done to a turn, potatoes and beans and coffee. Burnham attended to the cooking, saying he had cooked many a meal for himself during his Bohemian life at the Hub, and consequently all the dishes were turned out in true American style, garlic and such stuff being for once tabooed.

Yet I hurried matters, wishing to catch up with my father as soon as possible. I wondered if he knew I was after him, and how he was faring. I felt certain that to be bound to the back of a mule over these rough trails could be anything but a pleasant sensation.

While we were still in sight of Los Hanios it began to rain, and we had not made over a mile when the downpour became very heavy. Burnham wished to take shelter under some trees, but I would not hear of it, and Alano and his father backed me up in my idea.

We can rest a-plenty when Mr. Carter is once more safe, said the captain, and that ended the discussion.

On and on we went, until, looking ahead, we espied a turn in the road. Beyond this was a bank six or eight feet in height, and this was where the railroad tracks were located.

We had best dismount and go ahead on foot, said the captain. A sentry could easily see our animals if he had his eyes about him.

If he wasnt asleep, put in Burnham. "I fancy these Spaniards and Cubans do a lot of sleeping whenever they get the chance."

Not in war-times, said Alano, who did not fancy this slur upon his countrymen. Of course we are not so nervous and impatient as some of the Americans, he added pointedly, and Burnham took the hint and said no more on the subject.

A fierce rattle of thunder stopped all talking soon after. The lightning became almost incessant, and glared and flared along the railroad tracks as far as eye could see. We came together close to a clump of berry bushes.

Wait a moment, whispered Captain Guerez. I think I saw a sentry not over fifty feet away!

At this announcement all of us crouched down, and each looked to his weapons, feeling that a crisis might be at hand.

Alanos father moved like a shadow up to the railroad bank.

I was right, he announced, after a particularly bright flash of lightning; I saw his gun-barrel plainly.

Can we pass him? asked Alano.

We can try, but

If he sees us why cant we make him a prisoner? I broke in. If we did that, we would have a chance to bring our horses up the bank and over the tracks.

I was thinking as much, said the captain. The horses must be gotten over; that is necessary.

He deliberated for a minute, and then motioned us forward, warning us at the same time to keep perfectly silent. On we went, to where something of a trail led up over the railroad embankment. There were a few bushes growing in the vicinity, and we skulked beside these, almost crawling along the ground.

Several minutes passed, and the top of the embankment was reached and we stood on the glistening tracks. Down we plunged on the opposite side, and not over a dozen paces from where the Spanish sentry was standing.

Halte! came the unexpected cry, and the man rushed forward, pointing his gun as he ran. But for once fate was in our favor. A trailing vine tripped him up and he went headlong.

Before the Spanish soldier could collect his senses, or make a movement to rise, Captain Guerez and myself were on him. The captain sat down astride of the fellows back, while I secured his gun and clapped my hand over his mouth, to keep him from calling for assistance. A second later Alano and the newspaper man came up, and the Spaniard was our prisoner.

Now bring the horses over, as quickly as possible! said the captain to his son and Burnham. Mark and I will guard this fellow.

At once Alano and Burnham departed. The prisoner struggled wildly to escape, but we held him fast, and presently Captain Guerez pulled out his sword and pointed it at the fellows throat.

Not a sound, on your life! he commanded in Spanish, and the prisoner became mute instantly.

The sharpness of the lightning and the deafening thunder had frightened our animals a good deal, and Alano and the newspaper man had all they could do to bring them up the embankment, which in one spot was quite steep. Just as the railroad tracks were reached one of the horses broke away, and with a loud snort ran down the road, his hoofs clattering loudly on the ties and the iron rails. Alano endeavored to catch him, with the result that another broke loose and went up the road in the same fashion.

Halte! came from half a dozen different directions, and as if by magic as many Spanish sentries showed themselves along the embankment. A flash of lightning revealed Alano and Burnham, and crack! crack! crack! went three carbines almost simultaneously. The alarm was taken up on several sides, and soon we found the best part of a company of Spanish soldiery swooping down upon us.

CHAPTER XXXI.
THE BATTLE AT THE RAILROAD EMBANKMENT

We are lost! cried my Cuban chum, as he came stumbling down to where his father and I stood, with our prisoner between us.

Were in for it, thats a fact! ejaculated Gilbert Burnham, as he came after Alano, bringing the remaining two horses. Come on, cant we ride two on a horse and escape them?

Captain Guerez shook his head. There was no time left to answer, for some of the soldiers were already less than a score of yards away. The captain waved his hand and ran off, followed by all of us, and leaving our late prisoner standing with mouth wide open in amazement.

To try to go back whence we had come, and thus expose ourselves on the top of the railroad embankment, would have been foolhardy. Instead, the captain led the way directly into a grove of sapodilla trees some distance up the track.

Our Spanish pursuers called upon us to halt, not once, but many times; and when we did not heed their repeated commands, they opened fire in a manner which made us feel far from comfortable, for a bullet grazed the captains hand, and another whizzed so closely to my ear that I nearly fell from ducking. There may be those who can stand up coolly under fire; but I must confess I am not one of them, and I am willing to give a flying bullet all the room it wishes in which to spend itself.

Hardly had we reached the grove of sapodillas than Captain Guerez swung around and began to use his own pistol in a most effective way, wounding two of the soldiers in advance of the main body of the Spaniards. Seeing this, the rest of us took courage and also opened fire, although I must confess I aimed rather low, having no desire to kill anyone. The cracks from our four pistols brought consternation to our pursuers, and they halted and fell back a dozen paces.

Come on, whispered Captain Guerez. Our only hope is to lose ourselves in the woods. The enemy outnumbers us five to one.

Away he went again, with all of us close upon his heels. Another volley from the Spaniards rang out, but did no damage, as the trees and brush now hid us from view.

We had passed along a distance of a hundred feet when we heard a crashing in the brush coming from a direction opposite to that being taken by ourselves. Fearing another company of Spanish infantry was coming up, Captain Guerez called us to his side.

Here is a narrow ravine, leading under the railroad tracks, he said hurriedly. Let us go down into that and work our way to the other side of the embankment.

No opposition was made, and into the ravine we fairly tumbled, just as the soldiers came up once more. Bushes and stones hid us from view, and we went on only when the thunder rolled, that no sounds of our progress might reach our enemies' ears.

Ten minutes later found us close to the railroad embankment. But here we came to a halt in dismay. The ravine had been filled up by the recent rains, so that crawling under the tracks was out of the question.

Now what is to be done? asked Alano in a low voice. We cant stay here, thats certain.

Some of the soldiers are coming up the ravine after us! exclaimed Burnham a moment later. Hark!

We listened, and found that he was right. At least half a dozen of the Spaniards were advancing in a cautious manner, their guns ready for immediate use.

Let us climb this tree, said Captain Guerez, pointing to a tall monarch of the forest, whose spreading branches reached nearly to the opposite side of the embankment. Be quick, all of you!

He leaped for the tree, and Burnham followed. I gave Alano a boost up, and he gave me a hand; and inside of forty seconds all of us were safe for the time being. As we rested on the upper branches of the tree we heard the far-away whistle of a locomotive.

A train is coming! said Alano.

If we could only board it! I put in eagerly. It would carry us part of the way to Guantanamo, wouldnt it?

It would going in that direction, said Captain Guerez, with a wave of his hand. But the train may be filled with Spanish soldiers, and what then?

The locomotive kept coming closer, and presently we heard the rattle of the cars as they bumped over the rails, which were far from being well ballasted. The captain was peering out from behind the tree branches, and he gave a deep breath as a flash of lightning lit up the scene.

It is a freight train! he exclaimed softly. Come down to the branch below, all of you!

We understood him, and one after another we dropped to the branch mentioned. It was directly over the track upon which the freight was pounding along, and we calculated that the distance to the top of the tallest cars would not be over six or eight feet.

We cant jump with that train running at twenty or thirty miles an hour, I said, with a shudder. Well slip and be ground to death under the car wheels.

Mark is right a jump is out of the question, added Gilbert Burnham. Id rather risk staying here.

The train may have supplies for the soldiers about here and stop, whispered Captain Guerez. Watch your chances.

On and on came the train, and in a few seconds more we realized that those in charge had no intention of stopping in that vicinity. Yet as the headlight came closer we lowered ourselves in readiness to make a leap.

Suddenly there was a shrill whistle, and down went some of the brakes on the long train. I glanced in the opposite direction from whence the freight had come and saw on the tracks one of our runaway horses, which stood staring in alarm at the glaring headlight. Evidently the engineer had been startled by the sudden appearance of the animal, and, not realizing exactly what it was, had, on the impulse of the moment, reversed the locomotives lever and whistled for brakes.

The train could not be stopped in time to save the beast, which was struck and sent rolling over and over down the embankment. Then the train went on still further, the locomotive finally coming to a halt about fifty yards beyond the tree upon which all of us were perched.

As it slowed up the top of one of the tall freight cars rolled directly beneath us. Giving the word to follow, Captain Guerez let himself drop on the running board, as it is termed by train hands that is, the board running along the center of the top of a freight car from end to end. All of us came after him, the quartette landing in a row less than two yards apart. As soon as each had struck in safety he lay down flat, that those below the embankment, as well as those on the train, might not have such an easy chance to discover us.

Scarcely had the train halted than some of the Spanish soldiers came running up to ascertain why it had stopped. But their shouting evidently frightened the train hands, who possibly thought a band of rebels was at hand and that the horse on the track had been a ruse to stop them. The engineer whistled to release brakes, and put on a full head of steam, and on went the train, while the Spaniards yelled in dismay and flourished their weapons.

By Jove! that was a move worth making! remarked Gilbert Burnham, after the long train had covered at least an eighth of a mile. We are clear of those chaps now.

Where will this train take us? asked Alano of his father.

The next village is Comaro, but I do not know if the train will stop, was the reply. Two miles further on is Los Harmona, but we must not go there, for I understand there is a strong Spanish garrison stationed in the village. Let us get down between the cars and watch our chance to spring off. If we remain here some of the brakemen may come along and give the alarm.

The lightning and thunder were decreasing in violence, and the rain had settled into a thin but steady downpour. The captain was nearest to the front end of the freight car, and led the way down the narrow ladder to the platform below. Once on this, and on the platform of the car ahead, we divided into pairs on either side and awaited a favorable opportunity to leave the train.

Comaro was reached and passed in the darkness, and the long freight began to pull out for Los Harmona at a steady rate of twenty-five miles or more an hour. No chance had been given us to jump off without great danger, and now it began to look as if we would be carried right into the fortified town, or further.

Some distance below here is, unless I am greatly mistaken, a wide patch of meadow, said Captain Guerez. I do not believe a leap into the water and mud would hurt any of us very much, and, under the circumstances, I am in favor of taking the risk, in preference to being carried into Los Harmona.

If you go I will follow, I said, and Alano said the same.

Well, I dont intend to be left alone, smiled Burnham grimly. But what will we do after we strike the meadow?

The meadow is not very broad, answered the captain, and beyond is a highway leading almost directly into Guantanamo. We will take to this highway and trust to luck to get on as originally intended. Of course the loss of our horses is a heavy one, but this cannot be helped. If we Ha!

Captain Guerez stopped short, and not without good reason. From the interior of the freight car had come the unmistakable sounds of human voices. We heard first two men talking, then a dozen or more. The conversation was in Spanish, and I did not understand it. But Alano and his father did, and my Cuban chum turned to Burnham and me in high excitement.

What do you think! he whispered. This car is filled with Spanish soldiers bound for Guantanamo! They heard us talking, and they are going to investigate and find out where we are and who we are!

CHAPTER XXXII.
A LEAP IN THE DARK

My readers can readily believe that all of us were much alarmed at the prospect ahead. We had not dreamed that the freight car contained soldiers, although all of us had heard that the Spanish Government was transporting troops by this means wherever the railroads ran.

Alano had scarcely explained the situation, when Captain Guerez motioned us to withdraw from the side edges of the platforms, so that the soldiers looking out of the broad side doors of the car could not catch sight of us.

We must jump as soon as the meadow appears, whispered the captain. Be prepared, all of you.

He had scarcely finished when we heard a clatter of feet, and knew that one or more of the Spaniards had crawled from a side door to the top of the car. Then followed cautious footsteps in the direction of the rear platform. Finding no one there, the Spanish soldiers came forward.

Ha! cried one, as he espied Captain Guerez. Who are you?

Friends, was the reply, of course in Spanish.

Friends? And why ride out here, then?

We have no money, capitan. We are dirt-poor.

And where do you intend to go?

Los Harmona if the train will ever reach there.

What will you do there?

We may join the Spanish soldiery, capitanif you will take us.

Ha! The Spanish officer tugged at his heavy mustache. He was only a sergeant, but it pleased him to be called captain. Why did you not come into the car instead of sneaking around outside? If you want to become soldiers we will take you along fast enough. But you must not play us false. Come up here.

I am afraid I may fall off, answered Alanos father, in a trembling voice.

All the while the conversation had been carried on he had been peering sharply ahead for the meadow and the water to appear. We now shot out of the woods, and on either side could be seen long stretches of swamp. He turned to us and spoke in English. All ready to jump?

Yes, we answered in concert.

Then jump all together!

And away we went, leaving the rude steps of the freight cars with an impetus that took each several yards from the tracks. I made a straight leap and landed on my feet, but as quickly rolled over on my shoulder in the wet grass. Burnham came close to me, but took a header, which filled his nose and one ear with black mud. Alano and his father were on the opposite side of the track.

A pistol shot rang out, followed by half a dozen more, but the bullets did not reach any of us. In a moment the long train had rolled out of sight. We watched its rear light for fully an eighth of a mile, when it disappeared around a bend behind a bit of upland.

Hullo, Mark, how are you? It was the voice of Alano, who came up on the tracks directly the freight had passed. He was not hurt in the least. Captain Guerez had scratched one arm on a bit of low brush, but outside of this the entire party was uninjured.

Come now, follow me; there is no time to be lost, said the captain. Those soldiers may take it into their heads to have the train run back in search of us.

Yes, thats true, said Burnham. Which way now?

Well walk back on the tracks until we reach dry ground.

The plunge into the wet meadow had completed the work of the rain in soaking us to the skin, but as the night was warm we did not mind this. Keeping our eyes on the alert for more Spanish sentries, we hurried along the railroad embankment for a distance of several hundred yards. Then we left the tracks and took a trail leading southward.

Our various adventures for the past few hours had completely exhausted Burnham, while the others of the party were greatly fatigued. The newspaper man was in favor of stopping under a clump of palm trees and resting, but Captain Guerez demurred.

Well reach a hut or a house ere long, he said. And there the accommodations will be much better.

Well, we cant reach a resting-place too soon, grumbled Burnham. I can scarcely drag one foot after the other, and its so close my clothing is fairly steaming.

You are no worse off than any of us, I made answer, as cheerfully as I could.

The highway was a stony one, and the rains had washed away what little dirt there was, making walking difficult. However, we had not very far to go. A turn brought us in sight of a long, low house built of logs and thatched with palm; and Captain Guerez called a halt.

Ill go forward and investigate, he said. In the meantime be on guard against anybody following us from the railroad.

He was gone less than quarter of an hour, and on returning said it was all right. A very old man named Murillo was in sole charge of the house, and he was a strong Cuban sympathizer.

The place reached, we lost no time in divesting ourselves of a portion of our clothing and making ourselves comfortable in some grass hammocks spread between the house posts.

We ought to start early in the morning, I said, my thoughts still on my father.

We will start at four oclock, announced Captain Guerez. So make the most of your rest.

The captain had intended to divide up the night into watches, but Murillo came forward and volunteered to stand guard.

You go to sleep, he said in Spanish. I sleep when you are gone. I know how to watch.

Feeling the old man could be trusted, we all retired. In a few minutes Burnham was snoring, and shortly after the others also dropped asleep.

It lacked yet a few minutes of four oclock in the morning when Murillo came stealing into the house and shook everyone by the shoulder.

Spanish soldiers down by the railroad, he explained hurriedly. They intend to come up this road.





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