Edward Stratemeyer.

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





CHAPTER IX.
ACROSS THE CANEFIELDS

Look, Mark! ejaculated Alano.

A snake! I yelled. Drop! drop!

I had already dropped to the limb upon which I had been sitting. Now, swinging myself by the hands, I let go and descended to the ground, a distance of twelve or fifteen feet.

In less than a second my Cuban chum came tumbling after me. The fall was no mean one, and had the grass under the tree been less deep we might have suffered a sprained ankle or other injury. As it was, we both fell upon our hands and knees.

Gazing up at the limb we had left, we saw the serpent glaring down at us, its angry eyes shining like twin diamonds. How evil its intention had been we could but surmise. It was possible it had intended to attack us both. It slid from the upper limb to the lower, and stretched out its long, curling neck, while it emitted a hiss that chilled my blood.

Its coming down! Run! I began; when bang! went Alanos pistol, and I saw the serpent give a quiver, and coil and uncoil itself around the limb. The bullet had entered its neck, but it was not fatally wounded; and now it came for us, landing in the grass not a dozen feet from where we stood.

Luckily, while traveling along the hills, we had provided ourselves with stout sticks to aid us in climbing. These lay near, and, picking one up, I stood on the defensive, certain the reptile would not dare to show much fight. But it did, and darted for me with its dull-colored head raised a few inches out of the grass.

With all of the strength at my command I swung the stick around the instant it came within reach. It tried to dodge, but failed; and, struck in the neck, turned over and over as though more than half stunned.

By this time Alano had secured the second stick, and now he rushed in and belabored the serpent over the head and body until it was nearly beaten into a jelly. I turned sick at the sight, and was glad enough when it was all over and the reptile was dead beyond all question.

That was a narrow escape! I panted. Alano, dont you advise me to rest in a tree again. I would rather run the risk of fever ten times over.

Serpents are just as bad in the grass, he replied simply. Supposing he had come up when you were flat on your back!

Let us get away from here there may be more. And throw away that stick it may have poison on it.

That serpent was not poisonous, Mark. But I will throw it away, it is so covered with blood, and we can easily cut new ones.

The excitement had made me forget the heat, and we went on for over a mile. Then, coming to a mountain stream, we sat down to take it easy until the sun had passed the zenith and it was a trifle cooler.

About four oclock in the afternoon, or evening, as they call it in Cuba, we reached the end of the woods and came to the edge of an immense sugar-cane field. The cane waved high over our heads, so that what buildings might be beyond were cut off from view.

There was a rough cart-road through the field, and after some hesitation we took to this, it being the only road in sight.

We had traveled on a distance of half a mile when we reached a series of storehouses, each silent and deserted. Beyond was a house, probably belonging to the overseer of the plantation, and this was likewise without occupant, the windows and doors shut tightly and bolted.

All off to the war, I suppose, I said. And I had half an idea we might get a chance to sleep in a bed to-night.

We might take possession, Alano suggested.

But to this proposition I shook my head. We might be caught and shot as intruders. Come on. Perhaps the house of the owner is further on.

Stopping for a drink at an old-fashioned well, we went on through the sugar cane until we reached a small stream, beyond which was a boggy spot several acres in extent.

Well have to go around, Alano, I said. Which way will be best?

The ground appears to rise to our left, he answered. Well try in that direction.

Pushing directly through the cane, I soon discovered, was no mean work. It was often well-nigh impossible to break aside the stout stalks, and the stubble underfoot was more than trying to the feet. We went on a distance of a hundred yards, and then on again to the stream, only to find the same bog beyond.

Well have to go further yet, said Alano. Come, Mark, ere the sun gets too low.

Just a few minutes of rest, I pleaded, and pulled down the top of a cane. The sweet juice was exceedingly refreshing, but it soon caused a tremendous thirst, which I gladly slaked at the not over clear stream. Another jog of quarter of an hour, and we managed to cross at a point which looked like solid ground.

How far do you suppose this field extends? I asked.

I have no idea; perhaps but a short distance, and then again it may be a mile or more. Some of the plantations out here are very large.

Do you think we can get back to the road? I cant go much further through this stubble.

Ill break the way, Mark. You follow me.

On we went in the direction we imagined the trail to be, but taking care to avoid the bog. I was almost ready to drop from exhaustion, when Alano halted.

Mark!

What now, Alano?

Do you know where we are?

In a sugar-cane field, I said, trying to keep up my courage.

Exactly, but we are lost in it.

I stared at him.

Can one become lost in a sugar-cane field? I queried.

Yes, and badly lost, for there is nothing one can climb to take a view of the surroundings. Even if you were to get upon my shoulders you could see but little.

Ill try it, I answered, and did so without delay, for the sun was now sinking in the west.

But my chum had been right; try my best I could not look across the waving cane-tops. We were hedged in on all sides, with only the setting sun to mark our course.

Its worse than being out on an open prairie, I remarked. What shall we do?

There is but one thing push on, rejoined Alano gravely; unless you want to spend a night here.

Again we went on, but more slowly, for even my chum was now weary. The wet ground passed, we struck another reach of upland, and this gave us hope, for we knew the sugar cane would not grow up the hills. But the rise soon came to an end, and we found ourselves going down into a worse hollow than that we had left. Ere we knew it, the water was forming around our boots.

We must go back! I cried.

I think it is drier a few yards beyond, said Alano. Dont go back yet.

The sun had set, so far as we were concerned, and it was dark at the foot of the cane-stalks. We plowed on, getting deeper and deeper into the bog or mire. It was a sticky paste, and I could hardly move one foot after another. I called to Alano to halt, and I had scarcely done so when he uttered an ejaculation of disgust.

What is it? I called.

I cant move I am stuck!

I looked ahead and saw that he spoke the truth. He had sunk to the tops of his boots, and every effort to extricate himself only made him settle deeper.

I endeavored to gain his side and aid him, but it was useless. Ere I was aware I was as deep and deeper than Alano, and there we stood, and stuck, unable to help ourselves, with night closing rapidly in upon us.

CHAPTER X.
A COUNCIL OF THE ENEMY

Well, this is the worst yet, I said, after a minute of silence. Somehow, I felt like laughing, yet our situation was far from being a laughing matter.

We have put our foot into it, and no mistake, rejoined Alano dubiously.

Say feet, Alano, and legs, and youll be nearer it. What on earth is to be done?

I dont know. See, I am up to my thighs already. In an hour or so Ill be up to my neck.

To this I made no reply. I had drawn my pistol, and with the crook of the handle was endeavoring to hook a thick sugar-cane stalk within my reach. Several times I had the stalk bent over, but it slipped just as I was on the point of grasping it.

But I persevered, there was nothing else to try, and at last my eager fingers encircled the stalk. I put my pistol away and pulled hard, and was overjoyed to find that I was drawing myself up out of my unpleasant position.

Be careful or the stalk will break, cautioned my Cuban chum, when crack! it did split, but not before I was able to make a quick leap on top of the clump of roots. Here I sank again, but not nearly as deeply as before.

The leap I had taken had brought me closer to Alano, and now I was enabled to break down a number of stalks within his reach. He got a firm hold and pulled with all of his might, and a moment later stood beside me.

Oh, but Im glad were out of that! were his first words. I thought I was planted for the rest of my life.

We must get out of the field. See, it will be pitch dark in another quarter of an hour.

Let us try to go back it will be best.

We turned around, and took hold of each others hands, to balance ourselves on the sugar-cane roots, for we did not dare to step in the hollows between. Breaking down the cane was slow and laborious work, and soon it was too dark to see our former trail. We lost it, but this was really to our advantage, for, by going it blindly for another quarter of an hour, we emerged into an opening nearly an acre square and on high and dry ground.

Once the patch was reached, we threw ourselves down on the grass panting for breath, the heavy perspiration oozing from every pore. We had had another narrow escape, and silently I thanked Heaven for my deliverance.

Toward the higher end of the clearing was a small hut, built of logs plastered with sun-baked clay. We came upon it by accident in the dark, and, finding it deserted, lit our bit of candle before mentioned and made an examination.

Its a cane-cutters shanty, said Alano. I dont believe anybody will be here to-night, so we might as well remain and make ourselves comfortable.

We can do nothing else, I returned. We cant travel in the darkness.

Both of us were too exhausted to think of building a fire or preparing a meal. We ate some of our provisions out of our hands, pulled off our water-soaked boots, and were soon asleep on the heaps of stalks the shanty contained. Once during the night I awoke to find several species of vermin crawling around, but even this was not sufficient to make me rouse up against the pests. I lay like a log, and the sun was shining brightly when Alano shook me heartily by the shoulder.

Going to sleep all day? he queried.

Not much! I cried, springing up. Hullo, if you havent got breakfast ready! I added, glancing to where he had built a fire.

Yes; I thought Id let you sleep for a while, he answered. Fall to, and well be on our way. If we have good luck we may strike a part of General Garcias army to-day.

If we can get out of this beastly canefield.

Ive found a way out, Mark. Finish your meal, and Ill show you.

Breakfast was speedily dispatched, and, having put on my boots, which were stiff and hard from the wetting received, and taken up my valise, I followed Alano to the extreme southwest end of the clearing. Here there was an ox-cart trail, leading in a serpentine fashion through the canefield to still higher ground. Beyond were the inevitable rocks and woods.

We seem to have missed everything, I said pointedly. We have been lost several times, and even now we dont know where we are.

We know were not sinking to the bottom of that sugar-cane field, replied my Cuban chum grimly. Thats something to be thankful for. Ah, look there is quite a respectable-looking highway. Let us take to that and keep our eyes and ears open. It must lead to somewhere.

We had reached the highway at right-angles, and now we pursued a course directly eastward, which we felt must bring us closer and closer to the vicinity of Guantanamo. I asked Alano if he recognized the country at all, but he shook his head.

I was never out in this direction, he explained. My journeys have always been from Guantanamo to Santiago by water.

As we progressed we passed several isolated huts, and then a village containing perhaps a score of dwellings. The separate huts were deserted without exception, but in the village we came across three tall and bony colored women, who eyed us with great suspicion.

Alano began to open a friendly conversation in Spanish with them, and offered to pay them well if they would get us up a good dinner. But this they could not do, for there was little to be had outside of some vegetables. They said they had had some meat, but it had all been confiscated by the soldiers who had passed through only the evening before.

She means a body of Spanish soldiers, said Alano, after some more talk with the oldest of the women. She says there were about a hundred of them on horseback, and they were following up a detachment of General Garcias volunteers.

If that is so they cant be far off, I rejoined. We must be more careful than ever.

"If only we could catch up to them, get around them, and warn our fellows!" remarked Alano, his black eyes sparkling.

Its easy to see youre a rebel, I said, laughing.

And why not if my father is one? Come, what do you say?

I am with you, if it can be done. But we mustnt run into needless danger, Alano.

We will take care, Mark.

Luckily, the sun had gone under the clouds, so it was not so warm when we resumed our journey, after the negro women had supplied us with the best meal at their command. They smiled broadly when Alano told them he was a rebel sympathizer, and each declared her husband had joined General Garcias army several weeks previously.

The road now led along the southern edge of a deep ravine, bordered upon either side with wild plantains and cacao trees, with here and there an occasional palm. The highway was stony, and presently Alano called a halt.

Hark! he said, holding up his hand; and we listened, to discern the tramping of horses' hoofs some distance ahead.

There are a good many horses, I said. Perhaps it is the Spanish detachment.

Alano nodded. Follow me, and take to the woods if I hiss, he replied.

On we went again, but slower than before. The road now wound around to the right, up under a cliff backed up by a small mountain. As the sun was behind the mountain, the path was dark in its more sheltered portions.

Suddenly Alano let out a soft hiss, and we leaped back behind a convenient rock.

They are just ahead! he cried softly. They have quartered themselves for the middle of the day in a cave-like opening under the cliff, where it is, no doubt, cool and pleasant.

Well, what had we best do?

Get around them, by some means, Mark. But, hold up! Wouldnt it be fine if we could draw close enough to overhear them if they are talking over their plans!

It would be risky, I hesitated.

Yes, but think of the service we might do my countrymen!

That is true. Well, Im with you, Alano, but for gracious' sake be careful!

We talked the matter over for a few minutes, and then retraced our steps to where a narrow path led to the top of the cliff. Climbing this, we crawled along the edge of the cliff until we reached a spot directly over the encamped Spaniards.

They were a hearty, bold-looking set of men, handsomely uniformed and thoroughly armed, presenting a decided contrast to the dirty guerrillas we had previously encountered. A number of the soldiers were reclining upon the ground smoking, but a half-dozen of them, evidently officers, were gathered in a circle, conversing earnestly.

They are holding a council of war! cried Alano, after he had strained his ears to catch what was being said. They are waiting for Captain Crabo to join them with another detachment, and then they are to aid some others in surrounding the left wing of General Garcias army, which is encamped in the valley on the other side of this mountain.

CHAPTER XI.
A WILD RIDE ON HORSEBACK

I was of course deeply interested in what Alano had to say, and my heart gave a sudden leap when he mentioned that General Garcias wing of the rebel army was so close at hand. Instantly I thought of my father. Was he in the ranks?

I was about to speak when my Cuban chum motioned me to silence. As cautiously as a cat he drew closer to the edge of the cliff, throwing himself flat on his face as he made the movement. I followed suit, knowing full well that I would scarcely be able to understand the council of war being held below, but anxious to get a better view of the soldiery we now considered our enemies.

Evidently the Spanish officers did not imagine any outsiders were near, for they spoke rather loudly, while each gesticulated a good deal in his own particular manner. Ten minutes passed, and then there came a pause. Alano touched me on the arm, and, as silently as we had advanced, we turned and retreated into the brush back of the cliff.

I have their plans well in mind, Mark, he whispered. Oh, if only we could find General Garcia and tell him all!

Did you find out just where the general is located?

Pretty nearly in that direction my Cuban chum waved his hand. There is a ravine to cross and then a pass through the mountains. I believe the rebels now hold the pass, but the Spaniards mean to gain the high ground and hem them in. If they do that, my people will be slaughtered like cattle in a pen.

And supposing our fathers are with the rebels? I put in quickly.

Yes, I was thinking of that, Mark. We had best Hist!

Alano stopped short. From a distance came the sounds of horses' hoofs.

It must be Captain Crabo, said Alano. Lay low!

We drew still further into the brush and waited. Nearer and nearer came the horses. Then came a shout and a sudden halting.

Theyve challenged the newcomers, whispered Alano, as we heard the words Quien va?

Evidently the reply was satisfactory, for in a moment more the new arrivals had joined the force under the cliff. Looking from our shelter, we saw that Captain Crabo was the same individual who had had us locked up in the smoke-house some days previously.

We dont want him to lay hands on us again, I said, and Alano smiled grimly. Why not get out at once? I went on.

Wait till I hear what Captain Crabo has to say, Mark. He may bring news, and we want to learn as much as we can. If they

My Cuban chum was forced to stop speaking, for with a quick movement I had placed a warning hand over his mouth. Some of the soldiers who had been resting were coming up the cliff, evidently to take a look at the surroundings.

Come! I whispered into Alanos ear, and turned to retreat. He followed me, and a distance of fifty feet was covered through the undergrowth, when we found ourselves at the edge of another cliff and actually hemmed in by the advancing men.

What were we to do? It was a serious question, and one to be decided instantly. Already the foremost of the men was less than two rods behind us. We looked around for a place to hide, but none was at hand. Then Alano gave a cry.

They are coming from the other direction too! We are lost!

Scarcely had the words left his lips than we heard a yell from two of the Spanish soldiers. We were discovered, and all thoughts of further concealment in that hemmed-in spot were out of the question.

Hardly realizing what I was doing in my agitated frame of mind, I ran down to the very edge of the cliff at a point about a hundred and fifty feet above where the soldiers were encamped. Looking down I discovered a series of crags leading to the highway below. Here a score or more of horses were tethered to a mahogany tree.

Come, its our only chance! I ejaculated, and leaped for the nearest crag below me at the imminent peril of tumbling and breaking my neck.

Down I went, jumping and rolling from one projection of rocks to another, with Alano but a short distance behind me. I heard a command to stop, and then a shot, but paid no heed. With a final bump I reached the foot of the cliff, less than a dozen feet from where the horses were standing.

My sudden appearance startled several of the animals, and they plunged and broke their halters. But they did not run away, and the fact that they were loose gave me another idea.

The horses, Alano! Let us ride away on them!

Yes! yes! he replied, and in a twinkle we had secured two of the nearest of the animals. We leaped into the saddle just as a second shot rang out. The bullet struck my horse a glancing blow on the flank, and off he tore up the highway as though dug with a spur.

I heard Alano coming behind me, but did not dare look back, for the highway was a poor one and my beast needed all of my attention. Fortunately, riding had been taught to me at Broxville Military Academy, so I felt fairly well at home in the saddle. Gathering up the reins, I sent the animal along at all the speed at his command. The shouting behind continued, but no more shots were fired, for the trees now hid both of us from our pursuers.

That was a clever move, cried Alano, as he presently ranged up beside me. We have escaped them and provided ourselves with as good horses as one would wish to ride.





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