Edward Stratemeyer.

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





As we ate we discussed the situation, wondering how far we could be from some village and if there were any insurgents or Spanish soldiers in the vicinity.

The rebels could outwit the soldiers forever in these hills, remarked Alano especially those who are acquainted in the vicinity.

But the rebels might be surrounded, I suggested.

They said at Santiago they had too strong a picket guard for that, Mark.

But we have seen no picket guard. Supposing instead of two boys a body of Spanish soldiers had come this way, what then?

In that case what would the Spanish soldiers have to shoot at? he laughed. We have as yet seen no rebels.

But we may meet them before we know it, I said, with a shake of my head.

Scarcely had I uttered the words than the entrance to our resting-place was darkened by two burly forms, and we found the muzzles of two carbines thrust close to our faces.

Who are you? came in Spanish. Put up your hands!

Dont shoot! cried Alano in alarm.

Come out of that!

Its raining too hard, and we have our coats off, as you see. Wont you come in?

At this the two men, bronzed and by no means bad-looking fellows, laughed. Only boys! murmured one, and the carbines were lowered and they entered the cave.

A long and rapid conversation with Alano, which I could but imperfectly understand, followed. They asked who we were, where we were going, how we had managed to slip out of Santiago, if we were armed, if we carried messages, if we had the countersign, how we had reached the cave, and a dozen other questions. Both roared loudly when Alano said he thought they were rebels.

And so we are, said the one who appeared to be the leader. And we are proud of it. Have you any objections to make?

No, we both answered in a breath, that being both English and Spanish, and I understanding enough of the question to be anxious to set myself right with them.

I think our fathers have become rebels, Alano answered. At least, we were told so.

Good! said the leader. Then we have nothing to fear from two such brave lads as you appear to be. And now what do you propose to do encamp here for the night?

Unless you can supply us with better accommodations, rejoined my chum.

We can supply you with nothing. We have nothing but what is on us, laughed the second rebel.

Both told us later that they were on special picket duty in that neighborhood. They had been duly enlisted under General Garcia, but were not in uniform, each wearing only a wet and muddy linen suit, thick boots, and a plain braided palm hat. Around his waist each had strapped a leather belt, and in this stuck a machete a long, sharp, and exceedingly cruel-looking knife. Over the shoulder was another strap, fastened to a canvas bag containing ammunition and other articles of their outfit.

These specimens of the rebels were hardly what I had expected to see, yet they were so earnest in their manner I could not help but admire them.

One of them had brought down a couple of birds, and these were cooked over our fire and divided among all hands, together with the few things we had to offer. After the meal each soldier placed a big bite of tobacco in his mouth, lit a cigarette, and proceeded to make himself comfortable.

The Spaniards will not move in this weather, said one. They are too afraid of getting wet and taking cold.

Darkness had come upon us, and it was still raining as steadily as ever. Our clothing was dry; and, as the cave was warmed, the rebel guards ordered us to put out the fire, that it might not attract attention during the night.

We were told that we had made several mistakes on the road and were far away from Tiarriba. If we desire to go there, the rebels said they would put us on the right road.

But if you are in sympathy with us, you had better pass Tiarriba by, said one to Alano. The city is filled with Spanish soldiers, and you may not be able to get away as easily as you did from Santiago.

Alano consulted with me, and then asked the rebel what we had best do.

That depends. Do you want to join the forces under General Garcia?

We want to join our fathers at or near Guantanamo.

Garcia is pushing on in that direction. You had best join the army and stay with it until Guantanamo is reached.

But we will have to fight? said my Cuban chum.

The guard smiled grimly, exhibiting a row of large white teeth.

As you will. The general will not expect too much from boys.

There the talk ended, one of the rebels deeming it advisable to take a tramp over to the next hill and back, and the other crouching down in a corner for a nap. With nothing else to do, we followed the example of the latter, and were soon in dreamland.

A single call from the man who had slept beside us brought us to our feet at daybreak. The storm had cleared away, and now it was positively cool so much so that I was glad enough to button my coat up tightly and be thankful that the fire had dried it so well. The second rebel was asleep, and had been for two hours. We followed one out of the cave without arousing the other.

A tramp of half a mile brought us to a high bank, and here our rebel escort left us.

Across the bank you will find a wagon-road leading to the west, he said. "Follow that, and you cannot help but meet some of our party sooner or later. Remember the new password, Maysi, and you will be all right," and then he turned and disappeared from sight in the bush.

The climb to the top of the bank was not difficult, and, once over it, the road he had mentioned lay almost at our feet. We ran down to it with lighter hearts than we had had for some time, and struck out boldly, eating a light breakfast as we trudged along.

I hope we strike no more adventures until the vicinity of Guantanamo is reached, I observed.

We can hardly hope for that, Mark, smiled my chum. Remember we are journeying through a country where war is raging. Let us be thankful if we escape the battles and skirmishes.

And shooting down by some ambitious sharpshooter, I added. By the way, I wonder if our folks are looking for us?

It may be they sent word not to come, when they saw how matters were going, Mark. I am sure your father would not want you to run the risk that Look! look! We must hide!

Alano stopped short, caught me by the arm, and pointed ahead. Around a turn in the road a dozen horsemen had swept, riding directly toward us. A glance showed that they were Spanish guerrillas!

CHAPTER VII.
FOOLING THE SPANISH GUERRILLAS

Halte!

It was the cry of the nearest of the Spanish horsemen. He had espied us just as Alano let out his cry of alarm, and now he came galloping toward us at a rapid gait.

Let us run! I ejaculated to my Cuban chum. It is our only chance.

Yes, yes! but to where? he gasped, staring around in bewilderment. On one side of the road was a woods of mahogany, on the other some palms and plantains, with here and there a great rock covered with thick vines.

Among the rocks anywhere! I returned. Come! And, catching his hand, I led the way from the road while the horseman was yet a hundred feet from us.

Another cry rang out one I could not understand, and a shot followed, clipping through the broad leaves over our heads. The horseman left the road, but soon came to a stop, his animals progress blocked by the trees and rocks. He yelled to his companions, and all of the guerrillas came up at topmost speed.

They will dismount and be after us in a minute! gasped Alano. Hark! they are coming already!

On! on! I urged. Well find some hiding-place soon.

Around the rocks and under the low-hanging plantains we sped, until the road was left a hundred yards behind. Then we came to a gully, where the vegetation was heavy. Alano pointed down to it.

We can hide there, he whispered. But we will be in danger of snakes. Yet it is the best we can do.

I hesitated. To make the acquaintanceship of a serpent in that dense grass was not pleasant to contemplate. But what else was there to do? The footsteps of our pursuers sounded nearer.

Down went Alano, making leaps from rock to rock, so that no trail would be left. I followed at his heels, and, coming to a rock which was partly hollowed out at one side and thickly overgrown, we crouched under it and pulled the vines and creepers over us.

It was a damp, unwholesome spot, but there was no help for it, and when several enormous black beetles dropped down and crawled around my neck I shut my lips hard to keep from crying out. We must escape from the enemy, no matter what the cost, for even if they did not make us prisoners we knew they would take all we possessed and even strip the coats from our backs.

Peering from between the vines, we presently caught sight of three of the Spaniards standing at the top of the gully, pistols in hand, on the alert for a sight of us. They were dark, ugly-looking fellows, with heavy black mustaches and faces which had not had a thorough washing in months. They were dressed in the military uniform of Spain, and carried extra bags of canvas slung from their shoulders, evidently meant for booty. That they were tough customers Alano said one could tell by their vile manner of speech.

Do you see them, Carlo? demanded one of the number. I thought they went down this hollow?

I see nothing, was the answer, coupled with a vile exclamation. They disappeared as if by magic.

They were but boys.

Never mind, they were rebels that is enough, put in the third guerrilla, as he chewed his mustache viciously. I wish I could get a shot at them.

At this Alano pulled out his pistol and motioned for me to do the same.

We may as well be prepared for the worst, he whispered into my ear. They are not soldiers, they are robbers bandits.

They look bad enough for anything, I answered, and produced my weapon, which I had not discharged since the brush with the alligator.

If they are in the hollow it is odd we do not see them on their trail, went on one of the bandits. Perhaps they went around.

His companions shook their heads.

Ill thrash around a bit, said one of them; and, leaving the brink of the gully, he started straight for our hiding-place.

My heart leaped into my throat, and I feared immediate discovery. As for Alano, he shoved his pistol under his coat, and I heard a muffled click as the hammer was raised.

When within ten feet of us the ugly fellow stopped, and I fairly held my breath, while my heart appeared to beat like a trip-hammer. He looked squarely at the rock which sheltered us, and I could not believe he would miss discovering us. Once he started and raised his pistol, and I imagined our time had come; but then he turned to one side, and I breathed easier.

They did not come this way, capitan! he shouted. Let us go around the hollow.

In another moment all three of the bandits were out of sight. We heard them moving in the undergrowth behind us, and one of them gave a scream as a snake was stirred up and dispatched with a saber. Then all became quiet.

What is best to do now? I asked, when I thought it safe to speak.

Hush! whispered Alano. They may be playing us dark.

A quarter of an hour passed, it seemed ten times that period of time just then, and we heard them coming back. They were very angry at their want of success; and had we been discovered, our fate would undoubtedly have been a hard one. They stalked back to the road, and a moment later we heard the hoof-strokes of their horses receding in the distance.

Hurrah! I shouted, but in a very subdued tone. Thats the time we fooled them, Alano.

My Cuban chum smiled grimly. Yes, Mark, but we must be more careful in the future. Had we not been so busy talking we might have heard their horses long before they came into view. However, the scare is over, so let us put our best foot forward once again.

If only we had horses too! I sighed. My feet are beginning to get sore from the uneven walking.

Horses would truly be convenient at times. But we havent them, and must make the best of it. When we stop for our next meal you had best take off your boots and bathe your feet. You will be astonished how much rest that will afford them.

I followed this advice, and found Alano was right; and after that I bathed my feet as often as I got the chance. Alano suffered no inconvenience in this particular, having climbed the hills since childhood.

We were again on rising ground, and now passed through a heavy wood of cedars, the lower branches sweeping our hats as we passed. This thick shade was very acceptable, for the glare of the sun had nearly blinded me, while more than once I felt as if I would faint from the intense heat.

Its not such a delightful island as I fancied it, I said to my chum. I much prefer the United States.

That depends, laughed Alano. The White Mountains or the Adirondacks are perhaps nicer, but what of the forests and everglades in Florida?

Just as bad as this, I suppose.

Yes, and worse, for the ground is wetter, I believe. But come, dont lag. We must make several more miles before we rest.

We proceeded up a hill and across a level space which was somewhat cleared of brush and trees. Beyond we caught sight of a thatched hut. Hardly had it come into view than from its interior we heard a faint cry for help.

CHAPTER VIII.
ANDRES

What is that? ejaculated Alano, stopping short and catching my arm.

A cry of some kind, I answered. Listen!

We stepped behind some trees, to avoid any enemies who might be about, and remained silent. Again came the cry.

It is a man in distress! said Alano presently. He asks us not to desert him.

Then he probably saw us from the window of the hut. What had we best do?

You remain here, and I will investigate, rejoined my Cuban chum.

With caution he approached the thatched hut, a miserable affair, scarcely twelve feet square and six feet high, with the trunks of palm trees as the four corner-posts. There were one tiny window and a narrow door, and Alano after some hesitation entered the latter, pistol in hand.

Come, Mark! he cried presently, and I ran forward and joined him.

A pitiable scene presented itself. Closely bound to a post which ran up beside the window was a Cuban negro of perhaps fifty years of age, gray-haired and wrinkled. He was scantily clothed, and the cruel green-hide cords which bound him had cut deeply into his flesh, in many places to such an extent that the blood was flowing. The negros tongue was much swollen, and the first thing he begged for upon being released was a drink of water.

We obtained the water, and also gave him what we could to eat, for which he thanked us over and over again, and would have kissed our hands had we permitted it. He was a tall man, but so thin he looked almost like a skeleton.

For two days was I tied up, he explained to Alano, in his Spanish patois. I thought I would die of hunger and thirst, when, on raising my eyes, I beheld you and your companion. Heaven be praised for sending you! Andres will never forget you for your goodness, never!

And how came you in this position? questioned my chum.

Ah, dare I tell, master?

You are a rebel?

The negro lowered his eyes and was silent.

If you are, you have nothing to fear from us, continued Alano.

Ah good! good! Andres wrung his hand. Yes, I am a rebel. For two years I fought under our good General Maceo and under Garcia. But I am old, I cannot climb the mountains as of yore, and I got sick and was sent back. The Spanish soldiers followed me, robbed me of what little I possessed, and, instead of shooting me, bound me to the post as a torture. Ah, but they are a cruel set! And the eyes of the negro glowed wrathfully. If only I was younger!

Were the Spaniards on horseback? asked Alano.

Yes, master a dozen of them.

Alano described the bandits we had met, and Andres felt certain they must be the same crowd. The poor fellow could scarcely stand, and sank down on a bed of cedar boughs and palm branches. We did what we could for him, and in return he invited us to make his poor home our own.

There was a rude fireplace behind the hut, and here hung a great iron pot. Rekindling the fire, we set the pot to boiling; and Andres hobbled around to prepare a soup, or rather broth, made of green plantains, rice, and a bit of dried meat the bandits had not discovered, flavoring the whole mess with garlic. The dish was not particularly appetizing to me, but I was tremendously hungry and made way with a fair share of it, while Alano apparently enjoyed his portion.

It was dark when the meal was finished, and we decided to remain at the hut all night, satisfied that we would be about as secure there as anywhere. The smoke of the smoldering fire kept the mosquitoes and gnats at a distance, and Andres found for us a couple of grass hammocks, which, when slung from the corner-posts, made very comfortable resting-places.

During the evening Alano questioned Andres closely, and learned that General Garcia was pushing on toward Guantanamo, as we had previously been informed. Andres did not know Se?or Guerez, but he asserted that many planters throughout the district had joined the rebel forces, deserting their canefields and taking all of their help with them.

The men are poorly armed, he continued. Some have only their canefield knives but even with these they are a match for the Spanish soldiers, on account of their bravery an assertion which later on proved, for the greater part, to be true.

The night passed without an alarm of any kind, and before sunrise we were stirring around, preparing a few small fish Alano had been lucky enough to catch in a near-by mountain stream. These fish Andres baked by rolling them in a casing of clay; and never have I eaten anything which tasted more delicious.

Before we left him the Cuban negro gave us minute directions for reaching the rear guard of the rebel army. He said the password was still Maysi.

You had better join the army, he said, on parting. You will gain nothing by trying to go around. And you, master Alano if your father has joined the forces, it may be that will gain you a horse and full directions as to just where your parent is, and as we trudged off Andres wished us Godspeed and good luck over and over again, with a friendly wave of his black bony hand.

The cool spell, although it was really only cool by contrast, had utterly passed, and as the sun came up it seemed to fairly strike one a blow upon the head. We were traveling along the edge of a low cliff, and shade was scarce, although we took advantage of every bit which came in our way. The perspiration poured from our faces, necks, and hands; and about ten oclock I was forced to call a halt and throw myself on my back on the ground.

I knew it would be so, said my chum. "That is why I called for an early start. We might as well rest until two or three in the afternoon. Very few people travel here in the heat of the day."

It is suffocating, I murmured. Like one great bake-oven and steam-laundry combined.

That is what makes the vegetation flourish, he smiled. Just see how it grows!

I did not have far to look to notice it. Before us was a forest of grenadillo and rosewood, behind us palms and plantains, with an occasional cacao and mahogany tree. The ground was covered with long grass and low brush, and over all hung the festoons of vines of many colors, some blooming profusely. A smell of something growing green filled the hot air, and from every side arose the hum of countless insects and the occasional note of a bird.

I wouldnt remain on the ground too long, remarked Alano presently. When one is hot and lies down, that is the time to take on a fever. Better rest in yonder tree it is more healthy; and, besides, if there is any breeze stirring, there is where you will catch it.

We might as well be on a deserted island as to be in Cuba, I said, after both of us had climbed into a mahogany tree. There is not a building nor a human soul in sight. I half believe we are lost again.

Alano smiled. "Let us rather say, as your Indian said, 'We are not lost, we are here. The army and the towns and villages are lost,'" and he laughed at the old joke, which had been the first he had ever read, in English, in a magazine at Broxville Academy.

Well, its just as bad, Alano. I, for one, am tired of tramping up hill and down. If we could reach the army and get a couple of horses, it would be a great improvement.

My chum was about to reply to this, when he paused and gave a start. And I started, too, when I saw what was the trouble. On a limb directly over us, and ready to descend upon our very heads, was a serpent all of six feet in length!





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