Edward Stratemeyer.

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





Stony though it was in the woods, the vegetation was thick and rank. On every side were the trunks of decaying trees, overgrown with moss the homes of beetles, lizards, and snakes innumerable. The snakes, most of them small fellows not over a foot long, at first alarmed me, but this only made Alano laugh.

They could not harm you if they tried, he said. And they are very useful they eat up so many of the mosquitoes and gnats and lizards.

But some of the snakes are dangerous, I insisted.

Oh, yes; but they are larger.

And what of wild animals?

We have nothing but wild hogs and a few deer, and wild dogs too. And then there are the alligators to be found in the rivers.

The sun had risen clear and hot, as is usual in that region after a shower. Where the trees were scattered, the rays beat down upon our heads mercilessly, and the slippery ground fairly steamed, so rapid was the evaporation. By noon we had reached the top of a hill, and here we rested and partook of several crackers each and a bit of the beef, washing both down with water from a spring, which I first strained through a clean handkerchief, to get clear of the insects and tiny lizards, which abounded everywhere.

I can see a house ahead, announced Alano, who had climbed a palm tree to view the surroundings. Well go on and see what sort of a place it is before we make ourselves known.

Once again we shouldered our traps and set out. The way down the hill was nearly as toilsome as the upward course on the opposite side had been, for gnarled roots hidden in the rank grasses made a tumble easy. Indeed, both of us went down several times, barking our shins and scratching our hands. Yet we kept on, until the house was but a short distance off.

It was set in a small clearing; and as we approached we saw a man come out of the front door and down the broad piazza steps. He was dressed in the uniform of a captain in the Spanish army.

Back! cried Alano; but it was too late, for by pure accident the military officer had caught sight of us. He called out in Spanish to learn who we were.

He is a Spanish officer! I whispered to Alano. Shall we face him and trust to luck to get out of the scrape?

No, no! Come! and, catching me by the arm, Alano led the way around the clearing.

It was a bad move, for no sooner had we turned than the officer called out to several soldiers stationed at a stable in the rear of the house. These leaped on their horses, pistols and sabers in hand, and, riding hard, soon surrounded us.

Halte! came the command; and in a moment more my Cuban chum and myself found ourselves prisoners.

CHAPTER IV.
IN A NOVEL PRISON

I looked with much foreboding upon the faces of the soldiers who had surrounded us. All were stern almost to the verge of cruelty, and the face of the captain when he came up was no exception to the rule. Alano and I learned afterward that Captain Crabo had met the day previous with a bitter attack from the insurgents, who had wounded six of his men, and this had put him in anything but a happy frame of mind.

Who are you? he demanded in Spanish, as he eyed us sharply.

Alano looked at me in perplexity, and started to ask me what he had best say, when the Spanish captain clapped the flat side of his sword over my chums mouth.

Talk so that I can understand you, or Ill place you under arrest, he growled.

And then he added, Are you alone?

Yes, said Alano.

And where are you going?

"I wish to join my father at Guantanamo. His father is also with mine," and my chum pointed to me.

Your name?

Seeing there was no help for it, Alano told him. Captain Crabo did not act as if he had heard it before, and we breathed easier. But the next moment our hearts sank again.

Well, we will search you, and if you carry no messages and are not armed, you can go on.

We have no messages, said Alano. You can search us and welcome.

He handed over his valise, and I followed suit. Our pistols we had placed in the inner pockets of our coats. By his easy manner my chum tried to throw the Spaniards off their guard, but the trick did not work. After going through our bags, and confiscating several of my silk handkerchiefs, they began to search our clothing, even compelling us to remove our boots, and the weapons were speedily brought to light.

Ha! armed! cried Captain Crabo. They are not so innocent as they seem. We will look into their history a little closer ere we let them go. Take them to the smoke-house until I have time to make an investigation to-night. We must be off for Pueblo del Cristo now.

Without ceremony we were marched off across the clearing and around the back of the stable, where stood a rude stone building evidently built many years before. Alano told me what the captain had said, and also explained that the stone building was a smoke-house, where at certain seasons of the year beef and other meat were hung up to be dried and smoked, in preference to simple drying in the sun.

As might be expected, the smoke-house was far from being a clean place; yet it had been used for housing prisoners before, and these had taken the trouble to brush the smut from the stones inside, so it was not so dirty as it might otherwise have been.

We were thrust into this building minus our pistols and our valises. Then the door, a heavy wooden affair swinging upon two rusty iron hinges, was banged shut in our faces, a hasp and spike were put into place, and we were left to ourselves.

Now we are in for it, I began, but Alano stopped me short.

Listen! he whispered, and we did so, and heard all of our enemies retreat. A few minutes later there was the tramping of horses' feet, several commands in Spanish, and the soldiers rode off.

They have left us to ourselves, at any rate, said my chum, when we were sure they had departed. "And we are made of poor stuff indeed if we cannot pick our way out of this hole."

At first we were able to see nothing, but a little light shone in through several cracks in the roof, and soon our eyes became accustomed to the semi-darkness. We examined the walls, to find them of solid masonry. The roof was out of our reach, the floor so baked it was like cement.

We are prisoners now, surely, Mark, said Alano bitterly. What will be our fate when that capitan returns?

Well be sent back to Santiago de Cuba most likely, Alano. But we must try to escape. I have an idea. Can you balance me upon your shoulders, do you think?

I will try it. But what for?

I wish to examine the roof.

Not without much difficulty I succeeded in reaching my chums broad shoulders and standing upright upon them. I could now touch the ceiling of the smoke-house with ease, and I had Alano move around from spot to spot in a close inspection of every bit of board and bark above us.

Here is a loose board! I cried in a low voice. Stand firm, Alano.

He braced himself by catching hold of the stone wall, and I shoved upward with all of my strength. There was a groan, a squeak; the board flew upward, and the sun shone down on our heads. I crawled through the opening thus made, and putting down my hand I helped Alano to do likewise.

Drop out of sight of the house! he whispered. Somebody may be watching this place.

We dropped, and waited in breathless silence for several minutes, but no one showed himself. Then we held a consultation.

They thought we couldnt get out, I said. More than likely no one is left at the homestead but a servant or two.

If only we could get our bags and pistols, sighed Alano.

We must get them, I rejoined, for we cannot go on without them. Let us sneak up to the house and investigate. I see no dogs around.

With extreme caution we left the vicinity of the smoke-house, and, crawling on hands and knees, made our way along a low hedge to where several broad palms overshadowed a side veranda. The door of the veranda was open, and, motioning to Alano to follow, I ascended the broad steps and dashed into the house.

Now where? questioned my Cuban chum, as we hesitated in the broad and cool hallway. Here is a sitting room, and he opened the door to it.

A voice broke upon our ear. A negro woman was singing from the direction of the kitchen, as she rattled among her earthenware pots. Evidently she was alone.

If they left her on guard, we have little to fear, I said, and we entered the sitting room. Both of us uttered a faint cry of joy, for there on the table rested our valises and provisions, just as they had been taken from us. Inside of Alanos bag were the two pistols with the cartridges.

Now we can go at once, I said. How fortunate we have been! Let us not waste time here.

They owe us a meal for detaining us, replied my chum grimly. Let me explore the pantry in the next room.

He went through the whip-end curtains without a sound, and was gone several minutes. When he came back his face wore a broad smile and he carried a large napkin bursting open with eatables of various kinds, a piece of cold roast pork, some rice cakes, buns, and the remains of a chicken pie.

Well have a supper fit for a king! he cried. Come on! I hear that woman coming.

And coming she was, in her bare feet, along the polished floor. We had just time left to seize our valises and make our escape when she entered.

Qu? quiere V.? [What do you want?] she shouted, and then called upon us to stop; but, instead, we ran from the dooryard as fast as we could, and did not halt until the plantation was left a good half mile behind.

We are well out of that! I gasped, throwing myself down under the welcome shade of a cacao tree. Do you suppose she will send the soldiers in pursuit?

They would have hard work to find us, replied Alano. Here, let us sample this eating I brought along, and then be on our way. Remember we have still many miles to go.

We partook of some of the chicken pie and some buns, the latter so highly spiced they almost made me sneeze when I ate them, and then went on our way again.

Our run had warmed us up, and now the sun beat down upon our heads mercilessly as we stalked through a tangle where the luxurious vegetation was knee-high. We were glad enough when we reached another woods, through which there was a well-defined, although exceedingly poor, wagon trail. Indeed, let me add, nearly all of the wagon roads in Cuba, so I have since been told, are wretched affairs at the best.

We ought to be in the neighborhood of Tiarriba, said Alano about the middle of the afternoon.

We wont dare enter the town, I replied. Those soldiers were going there, you must remember.

Oh, the chances are well find rebels enough on the quiet, he rejoined.

On we went, trudging through sand and shells and not infrequently through mire several inches to a foot deep. It was hard work, and I wished more than once that we were on horseback. There was also a brook to cross, but the bridge was gone and there was nothing left to do but to ford the stream.

Its not to our boot-tops, said Alano, after an examination, so we wont have to take our boots and socks off. Come; I fancy there is a good road ahead.

He started into the water, and I went after him. We had reached the middle of the stream when both of us let out a wild yell, and not without reason, for we had detected a movement from the opposite bank, and now saw a monstrous alligator bearing swiftly down upon us!

CHAPTER V.
LOST AMONG THE HILLS

Both Alano and I were almost paralyzed by the sight of the huge alligator bearing down upon us, his mouth wide open, showing his cruel teeth, and his long tail shifting angrily from side to side.

Back! yelled my Cuban chum, and back we went, almost tumbling over each other in our haste to gain the bank from where we had started.

The alligator lost no time in coming up behind, uttering what to me sounded like a snort of rage. He had been lying half-hidden in the mud, and the mud still clung to his scaly sides and back. Altogether, he was the most horrible creature I had ever beheld.

Reaching the bank of the brook, with the alligator not three yards behind us, we fled up a series of rocks overgrown with moss and vines. We did not pause until we were at the very summit, then both of us drew our pistols and fired at the blinking eyes. The bullets glanced from the 'gators head without doing much harm, and with another snort the terrifying beast turned back into the brook and sank into a pool out of sight.

My gracious, Alano, supposing he had caught us! I gasped, when I could catch my breath.

We would have been devoured, he answered, with a shudder, for of all creatures the alligator is the one most dreaded by Cubans, being the only living beast on the island dangerous to life because of its strength.

He must have been lying in wait for somebody, I remarked, after a moments pause, during which we kept our eyes on the brook, in a vain attempt to gain another look at our tormentor.

He was it is the way they do, Mark. If they can, they wait until you are alongside of them. Then a blow from the tail knocks you flat, and that ends the fight for you, and again Alano shuddered, and so did I.

We cant cross, I said, a few minutes later, as all remained quiet. I would not attempt it for a thousand dollars.

Nor I on foot. Perhaps we can do so by means of the trees. Let us climb yonder palm and investigate.

We climbed the palm, a sloping tree covered with numerous trailing vines. Our movements disturbed countless beetles, lizards, and a dozen birds, some of the latter flying off with a whir which was startling. The top of the palm reached, we swung ourselves to its neighbor, standing directly upon the bank of the brook. In a few minutes we had reached a willow and then a cacao, and thus we crossed the stream in safety, although not without considerable exertion.

The sun was beginning to set when we reached a small village called by the natives San Lerma a mere collection of thatched cottages belonging to some sheep-raisers. Before entering we made certain there were no soldiers around.

Our coming brought half a dozen men, women, and children to our side. They were mainly of negro blood, and the children were but scantily clothed. They commenced to ask innumerable questions, which Alano answered as well as he could. One of the negroes had heard of Se?or Guerez' plantation, and immediately volunteered to furnish us with sleeping accommodations for the night.

Many of us have joined the noble General Garcia, he said, in almost a whisper. I would join too, but Teresa will not hear of it. Teresa was his wife a fat, grim-looking wench who ruled the household with a rod of iron. She grumbled a good deal at having to provide us with a bed, but became very pleasant when Alano slipped a small silver coin into her greasy palm.

Feeling fairly secure in our quarters, we slept soundly, and did not awaken until the sun was shining brightly. The inevitable pot of black coffee was over the fire, and the smoke of bacon and potatoes frying in a saucepan filled the air. Breakfast was soon served, after which we greased our boots, saw to our other traps and our bag of provisions, which we had not opened, and proceeded on our way the husband of Teresa wishing us well, and the big-eyed children staring after us in silent wonder and curiosity.

That is a terrible existence, I said to Alano. Think of living in that fashion all your life!

They know no better, he returned philosophically. And I fancy they are happy in their way. Their living comes easy to them, and they never worry about styles in clothing or rent day. Sometimes they have dances and other amusements. Didnt you see the home-made guitar on the wall?

On we went, past the village and to a highway which we had understood would take us to Tiarriba, but which took us to nothing of the sort. As we proceeded the sun grew more oppressive than ever, until I was glad enough to take Alanos advice, and place some wet grass in my hat to keep the top of my head cool.

It will rain again soon, said Alano, and if it comes from the right quarter it will be much cooler for several days after.

The ground now became hilly, and we walked up and down several places which were steep enough to cause us to pant for breath. By noon we reckoned we had covered eight or nine miles. We halted for our midday rest and meal under some wild peppers, and we had not yet finished when we heard the low rumble of thunder.

The storm is coming, sure enough! I exclaimed. What had we best do find some shelter?

That depends, Mark. If the lightning is going to be strong, better seek the open air. We do not want to be struck.

We went on, hoping that some village would soon be found, but none appeared. The rain commenced to hit the tree leaves, and soon there was a steady downpour. We buttoned our coats tightly around the neck, and stopped under the spreading branches of an uncultivated banana tree, the half-ripe fruit of which hung within easy reach.

The thunder had increased rapidly, and now from out of the ominous-looking clouds the lightning played incessantly. Alano shook his head dubiously.

Do you know what I think? he said.

Well?

I think we have missed our way. If we were on the right road we would have come to some dwelling ere this. I believe we have branched off on some forest trail.

Let us go on, Alano. See, the rain is coming through the tree already.

It was tough work now, for the road was uphill and the clayey ground was slippery and treacherous. It was not long before I took a tumble, and would have rolled over some sharp rocks had Alano not caught my arm. At one minute the road seemed pitch-dark, at the next a flash of lightning would nearly blind us.

Presently we gained the crest of a hill a little higher than its fellows, and gazed around us. On all sides were the waving branches of palms and other trees, dotted here and there with clearings of rocks and coarse grasses. Not a building of any kind was in sight.

It is as I thought, said my Cuban chum dubiously. We have lost our way in the hills.

And what will we have to do retrace our steps? I ventured anxiously.

I dont know. If we push on I suppose well strike some place sooner or later.

Yes, but our provisions wont last forever, Alano.

That is true, Mark, but well have to Oh!

Alano stopped short and staggered back into my arms. We had stepped for the moment under the shelter of a stately palm. Now it was as if a wave of fire had swept close to our face. It was a flash of lightning; and it struck the tree fairly on the top, splitting it from crown to roots, and pinning us down under one of the falling portions!

CHAPTER VI.
FROM ONE DIFFICULTY TO ANOTHER

How we ever escaped from the falling tree I do not fully know to this day. The lightning stunned me almost as much as my companion, and both of us went down in a heap in the soft mud, for it was now raining in torrents. We rolled over, and a rough bit of bark scraped my face; and then I knew no more.

When I came to my senses I was lying in a little gully, part of the way down the hillside. Alano was at my side, a deep cut on his chin, from which the blood was flowing freely. He lay so still that I at first thought him dead, but the sight of the flowing blood reassured me.

A strong smell of sulphur filled the air, and this made me remember the lightning stroke. I looked up the hill, to see the palm tree split as I have described.

Thank God for this escape! I could not help murmuring; and then I took out a handkerchief, allowed it to become wet, and bound up Alanos cut. While I was doing this he came to, gasped, and opened his eyes.

Qu? qu? he stammered. Wha what was it, Mark?

I told him, and soon had him sitting up, his back propped against a rock. The cut on his chin was not deep, and presently the flow of blood stopped and he shook himself.

It was a narrow escape, he said. I warned you we must get out into the open.

Well be more careful in the future, I replied. And then I pointed to an opening in the gully. See, there is a cave. Let us get into that while the storm lasts.

Let us see if it is safe first. There may be snakes within, returned Alano.

With caution we approached the entrance to the cave, which appeared to be several yards deep. Trailing vines partly hid the opening; and, thrusting these aside, we took sticks, lit a bit of candle I carried, and examined the interior. Evidently some wild animal had once had its home there, but the cave was now tenantless, and we proceeded to make ourselves at home.

Well light a fire and dry our clothing, suggested Alano. And if the rain continues we can stay here all night.

We might as well stay. To tramp through the wet grass and brush would be almost as bad as to have it rain we would be soaked from our waists down.

Then well gather wood and stay, said he.

Quarter of an hour later we had coaxed up quite a respectable fire in the shadow of a rock at the entrance to the cave, which was just high enough to allow us to stand upright, and was perhaps twelve feet in diameter. We piled more wood on the blaze, satisfied that in its damp condition we could not set fire to the forest, and then retired to dry our clothing and enjoy a portion of the contents of the provision bag Alano had improvised out of the purloined napkin.





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