When Santiago Fell: or, The War Adventures of Two Chumsскачать книгу бесплатно
“Any alligators?” I cried, coming to a pause.
“No 'gators here,” answered Jorge. “Water too swift – 'gators no like dat.”
This was comforting news, and on I went again, until I was up to my knees. The water felt very refreshing, and I proposed to Alano that we take advantage of our situation and have a bath.
“I feel tremendously dirty, and it will brace us up. We needn’t lose more than ten minutes.”
My Cuban chum was willing, and we decided to take our bath from the opposite shore. Jorge declined to go swimming and said he would try his luck at fishing, declaring that the river held some excellent specimens of the finny tribe.
We had now reached the middle of the stream. I was two yards behind Alano, while Jorge was some distance ahead. We were crossing in a diagonal fashion, as the fording rocks ran in that direction.
Suddenly Alano muttered an exclamation in Spanish. “It’s mighty swift out here!” he cried. “Look out, Mark, or – ”
He did not finish. I saw him slip and go down, and the next instant his body was rolling over and over as it was being carried along by the rushing current.
“Jorge, Alano is gone!” I yelled, and took a hasty step to catch hold of my chum’s coat. The movement was a fatal one for me, and down I went precisely as Alano had done. The water entered my eyes and mouth, and for the moment I was blinded and bewildered. I felt my feet touch bottom, but in the deeper water to obtain a footing was out of the question.
When my head came up I found myself at Alano’s side. I saw he had a slight cut on the forehead and was completely dazed. I caught him by the arm until he opened his eyes and instinctively struck out.
“We’re lost, Mark!” he spluttered.
“Not yet,” I returned. “Strike out for the shore.”
With all the strength at our command we struck out. To make any headway against that boiling current was well-nigh impossible, and on and on we went, until I was almost exhausted. Alano was about to sink when he gave a cry.
“The bottom!” he announced, and I put down both feet, to find the stream less than three feet deep. With our feet down, we were now able to turn shoreward; and five minutes later Jorge had us both by the hands and was helping us out.
“Well, we wanted a bath and we got it,” were Alano’s first words. “Have you had enough, Mark?”
“More than sufficient,” I replied, with a shudder. “Ugh, but that is a treacherous stream, and no mistake!”
“You lucky boys,” said Jorge. “Horse get in and roll over, he lose his life.”
We stopped long enough to wring out our clothing and put on our boots, and then followed our guide again. Half an hour later we reached a sheltered spot and here took dinner. By the time the repast was ended our light summer suits were almost dried. Luckily, through it all each of us had retained his hat.
“We haven’t had the fish Jorge promised us,” said Alano, as we were preparing to resume our journey.
“A bit of something baked wouldn’t go bad.”
“Fish to-night,” said the guide.
“Have you a line and hook, Jorge?” I asked.
“Yes, always carry him,” he answered; and, upon further questioning, I learned that to carry a fishing outfit was as common among the rebels as to carry a pistol or the ever-ready machete. They had to supply themselves with food, and it was often easier and safer to fish in the mountain streams than to shoot game or cattle.
We made a camp that night under the shelter of a clump of grenadillo trees; and, as Jorge had promised, he tried his luck at fishing in a little pool under some rocks. He remained at his lines, two in number, for nearly an hour, and in that time caught four fish – three of an eel-like nature and a perch. These were cooked for supper, and tasted delicious.
“When will we reach the old convent?” I asked, as we were about to turn in.
“Reach him by to-morrow afternoon maybe, if no storm come,” said Jorge.
“Do you think there will be a storm?”
The guide shrugged his shoulders.
“Maybe – time for storm now.”
The fire had been put out as soon as the fish were baked, that it might not attract the attention of any Spaniards who might be in the neighborhood. At eight o’clock we turned in, making our beds on a number of cedar boughs, which were easy to obtain in this mountainous locality. We had no coverings but our coats, but found these sufficient under the shelter of the grenadillos.
How long I slept I did not know. I awoke with a start and raised up. All was silent. I gazed around in the gloom, and saw that Alano and our guide slumbered soundly.
“I must have been dreaming,” I muttered to myself, when a rustle in the brush behind me caused me to leap to my feet. There was another rustle, and then came what I imagined was a half-subdued growl of rage.
Fearful that we were on the point of being attacked by some wild animal, I bent over my companions and shook them.
“Wake up! Wake up!” I cried. “There are wild beasts about! Quick, and get your pistols ready!”
And then I looked toward the bushes again, to see an ugly, hairy head thrust forward and a pair of glaring eyes fastened full upon me!
“What is it?” cried Alano, as he scrambled to his feet.
“I don’t know!” I yelled. “Look! look!”
As I spoke I pulled out my pistol. By this time Jorge was also aroused.
“Que ha dicho V.? [What did you say?]” he demanded, leaping up and catching at his machete.
“An animal – a bear, or something!” I went on. “There he is!”
I raised my pistol, and at the same time our guide looked as I had directed. I was about to pull the trigger of my weapon when he stopped me.
“No shoot! Puerco!” he cried, and gave a laugh. Leaping forward, he made after the animal, which turned to run away. But Jorge was too quick for him. Presently there was a grunt and a prolonged squeal, and then I understood what my wild beast was – nothing but a wild pig! In a couple of minutes Jorge came back to camp dragging the tough little porker by the hind legs. He had killed the animal in true butcher’s style.
“We have pork to-morrow,” he grinned, for Cuban negroes are as fond of pig meat as their Northern brothers. Taking a short rope from one of his pockets, he attached it to the pig’s hind legs and hung the body up on a convenient tree branch.
The incident had upset my nerves, and for the balance of the night I slept only by fits and starts, and I was glad when dawn came and the rising sun began to gild the tops of the surrounding hills. The sight was a beautiful one, and I gazed at it for some time, while Jorge prepared some pork chops over a tiny fire he had kindled.
“We carry what pork we can,” he said. “No use to leave it behind. Father Anuncio very glad to get pig, so sweet!” and once again Jorge grinned. After breakfast the guide cut up the balance of the animal, wrapped the parts in wet palm leaves, and gave us each our share to carry.
Our involuntary bath had done me good, and I stepped out feeling brighter and better than I had for several days. I was becoming acclimated, and I was glad of it, for had I been taken down with a fever I do not know what I would have done.
Alano was as eager as myself to reach the old convent on the river, and we kept close upon Jorge’s heels as our guide strode off down the mountain side toward a forest of sapodillas and plantains.
“I trust we find everybody safe and sound,” I remarked. “The fact that your father thought it best to conduct your mother and sisters to the convent would seem to indicate he was disturbed about their safety.”
“I am hoping he did it only to be clear to join the rebel army,” replied Alano. “I hope both your father and mine are in the ranks, and that we are allowed to join too.”
I did not wish to discourage my Cuban chum on this point, yet I had my own ideas on the subject. I was not anxious to join any army, at least not while both sides to the controversy were conducting the contest in this guerrilla-like fashion. I was quite sure, from what I had heard from various sources, that up to that date no regular battle had been fought in the eastern portion of Cuba, although the western branch of the rebel army, under General Gomez, was doing much regular and effective work.
The reasons for this were twofold. In the first place, General Gomez' forces were composed mainly of white men, while a large portion of the soldiers under General Garcia were black. Nearly all of the Americans who came to Cuba to fight for Cuban liberty, came by way of Havana or Jibacoa and joined General Gomez, and these fellows brought with them a large stock of arms and ammunition. It was said that there were three armed men in the West to every man who had even a pistol in the East. Many of the negroes were armed only with their machetes, which they tied to their wrists with rawhides, that they might not lose this sole weapon while on the march or in a skirmish. To shoot off a cartridge in a pistol without doing some effective work with it was considered under General Garcia and his brother officers almost a crime.
The guerrilla warfare in the mountains I felt could be kept up for a long time, perhaps indefinitely. The Spanish troops had sought to surround General Garcia a dozen times, only to discover, when too late, that he and his men had left the vicinity. The Cuban forces moved almost always at night, and often detachments of soldiers were sent off on swift horses to build false campfires dozens of miles away from the real resting-place of the army.
In the valley we crossed through a large coffee plantation. In the center was a low, square house with several outbuildings. The house was closed tightly, and so were the other buildings, yet as we drew close I fancied I heard sounds from within.
I notified Jorge, and a halt ensued. Hardly had we stopped than the door of the house flew open and out rushed half a dozen well-dressed Spanish soldiers.
“Halte!” came the command, but instead of halting we turned and fled – I in one direction, and Alano and our guide in another. Bang! bang! went a couple of guns, and I heard the bullets clipping through the trees. Surprised and alarmed, I kept on, past a field of coffee and into a belt of palms. Several of the soldiers came after me, and I heard them shouting to me to stop and promising all sorts of punishment if I did not heed their command.
But I did not intend to stop, and only ran the faster, past the palms and into a mass of brushwood growing to a height of ten or twelve feet. At first the bushes were several feet apart, and I went on with ease; but soon the growth was more dense, and numerous vines barred the way; and at last I sank down in a hollow, unable to go another step, and thoroughly winded.
I remained in the hollow at least half an hour, trying to get back my breath and listening intently to the movements of my pursuers. The soldiers passed within fifty feet of me, but that was as close as they got, and presently they went off; and that was the last I heard of them.
In the excitement of the chase I had dropped my pig meat, and now I discovered that nearly all of my other traps were gone, including my pistol, which had left my hand during a nasty trip-up over a hidden tree root. The trip-up had given me a big bump on the temple and nearly knocked me unconscious.
Crawling around, I found a pool of water, in which I bathed my forehead, and then I set about finding out what had become of Alano and Jorge. I moved with extreme caution, having no desire to be surprised by the enemy, who might be lying in ambush for me.
Moving onward in the brush I soon discovered was no light undertaking, and it was fully an hour before I found my way out to where the vines grew less profusely. The spot where I emerged was not the same as that at which I had entered the undergrowth, and on gazing around I was dismayed to find that the whole topography of the country looked different.
I was lost!
The thought rushed upon me all in an instant, and I half groaned aloud as I realized my situation. I must be all of a mile from the plantation, and where my friends were I had not the remotest idea.
The sun beat down hotly in the valley, and it was not long before I was both dry and hungry. I searched around for another pool, but could not find any, and had to content myself with the taste of a wild orange, far from palatable.
Noon came and went and found me still tramping around the valley looking for Alano and Jorge. In my passage through the bushes my already ragged clothing was torn still more, until I felt certain that any half-decent scarecrow could discount me greatly in appearance.
At four o’clock, utterly worn out, I threw myself on the ground in a little clearing and gave myself up to my bitter reflections. I felt that I was hopelessly lost. Moreover, I was tremendously hungry, with nothing in sight with which to satisfy the cravings of my appetite. Night, too, was approaching. What was to be done?
THE CAVE IN THE MOUNTAIN
I lay in the clearing in the valley for all of half an hour. Then, somewhat rested, I arose, unable to endure the thought that night would find me in the wilds alone and unarmed.
I could well remember how the sun had stood when I had separated from my companions, and now, using the sun as a guide, I endeavored once more to trace my steps to the path leading down to the river. Once the stream was gained, I resolved to search up and down its banks until the old convent was sighted.
My course led me up the side of a small mountain, which I climbed with great difficulty, on account of the loose stones and dirt, which more than once caused my ankle to give a dangerous twist. A sprained ankle would have capped the climax of my misfortunes.
Just as the sun was beginning to set behind the peaks to the westward of me, I reached a little plateau which divided a ridge from the mountain proper. Here I rested for a few minutes and obtained a refreshing drink at a spring under some rocks. Then I went on, in some manner satisfied that I was on the right path at last.
But, alas! hardly had I taken a score of steps than I stepped on a bit of ground which appeared solid enough, but which proved to be nothing but a mass of dead brushwood lying over a veritable chasm. The whole mass gave way, and with a lurch I was hurled forward into black space.
As I went down I put out my hands to save myself. But, though I caught hold of several roots and bits of rocks, this did not avail; and I did not stop descending until I struck a stone flooring twenty feet below the top of the opening. Fortunately the floor was covered with a large mass of half-decayed brush, otherwise the fall must have been a serious if not a fatal one.
As I went down, on hands and knees, a lot of loose branches, dirt, and small stones rolled on top of me, and for the minute I had a vision of being buried alive. But the downfall soon ceased; and, finding no bones broken, I crawled from under the load and surveyed the situation.
I felt that I was now worse off than ever. The well-hole – I can call it nothing else – was about ten feet in diameter, and the walls were almost smooth. The top of the opening was far out of my reach, and, as for a means of escape, there seemed to be none.
However, I was not to be daunted thus easily, and, striking a match and lighting a cedar branch, I set about looking for some spot where I might climb up. But the spot did not present itself.
But something else did, and that was an opening leading directly into the mountain. On pulling at a projecting rock, I felt it quiver, and had just time to leap back, when it fell at my feet. Behind the rock was a pitch-black hole, into which I thrust the lighted branch curiously. There was a cave beyond – how large was yet to be discovered.
I had no desire to explore any cave at that moment, my one idea being to get out of the well-hole and proceed on my way. But getting out of the hole was impossible, and I was forced to remain where I was, much to my disgust and alarm.
Jorge had been right about the coming storm. At an hour after sunset I heard the distant rumble of thunder, and soon a lively breeze blew through the trees and brush on the mountain side. A few flashes of lightning followed, and then came a heavy downpour of rain.
Not wishing to be soaked, I retreated to the cave I had discovered, although with caution, for I had no desire to take another tumble into a deeper hole. But the floor of the cavern appeared to be quite level, and with rising curiosity I took up my lighted cedar branch, whirled it around to make it blaze up, and started on a tour of investigation and discovery.
That I should not miss my way back, I lit a pile of small brush at the mouth of the opening. Then I advanced down a stony corridor, irregular in shape, but about fifty feet wide by half as high.
The opening appeared to be a split in the mountain, perhaps made ages before by volcanic action. I felt certain there was an opening above, for in several spots the rain came down, forming small pools and streams of water.
Suddenly the idea struck me to watch which way the water ran, and I did so and learned that its course was in the very direction I was walking. Moreover the tiny streams merged one into another, until, several hundred feet further on, they formed quite a water course.
“If only this stream flows into the main river!” I thought, and on the spur of the moment resolved to follow it as far as I was able, satisfied that if it led to nowhere in particular I could retrace my steps to its source.
I now found the cave growing narrower, and presently it grew less than a dozen feet in width, and the stream covered the entire bottom to the depth of several inches. Throwing my boots over my shoulders, I began wading, feeling sure of one step ere I trusted myself to take another.
It took me fully ten minutes to proceed a hundred feet in this fashion. The stream was now not over six feet wide and all of a foot deep.
Making sure that my torch was in no danger of going out, I continued to advance, but now more slowly than ever, for in the distance I could hear the water as it fell over a number of rocks. There was a bend ahead; and this passed, I fervently hoped to emerge into the open air, on the opposite side of the mountain and close to the bank of the river for which I was seeking.
At the bend the water deepened to my knees, and I paused to roll up my trousers, in the meantime resting the torch against the wall, which afforded a convenient slope for that purpose.
I had just finished arranging my trouser-legs to my satisfaction, when a rumble of thunder, echoing and re-echoing throughout the cavern, made me jump. My movement caused the cedar branch to roll from the rocks, and it slipped with a hiss into the stream. I made a frantic clutch for it, and, in my eagerness to save it from going out or getting too wet, I fell on it in the very middle of the stream.
With a splutter I arose to find myself in utter darkness. Moreover, the cedar branch was thoroughly soaked, and it would take a good many matches to light it again. And what was still worse, every match my pocket contained was soaked as badly as the torch.
I must confess that I was utterly downcast over my mishap, and if there had been any dry ground handy I would have thrown myself down upon it in abject despair. But there was only water around, and, disconsolate as I was, I felt I must either go forward or backward.
How I became turned about I do not know, but certain it is that, in essaying to return to the spot from whence I had come, I continued on down the stream. I did not notice the mistake I had made until fifty yards had been passed and I brought up against an overhanging rock with my shoulder. Putting up my hands, I was dismayed to discover that the passage-way was just high enough to clear my head.
Realizing that I must be walking into a trap, I endeavored to turn about, when I slipped and went down again. Before I could gain my footing I was swept around a bend and into a much broader stream. All was as dark as before, and I soon learned that the bottom of the new water-course was beyond my reach. Putting my hand up, I learned that the rocky ceiling was not over two feet above the surface of the water, and the distance between the two was gradually but surely growing less!
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