Edward Stratemeyer.

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





CHAPTER XX.
SE?OR GUEREZ

I was horrified over the discovery that I had made. Here I was, in absolute darkness, hemmed in by water and rocky walls, and drifting rapidly I knew not whither.

In my terror I cried aloud, but only echo answered me a peculiar echo which made me shiver from head to foot.

On and on, and still on, was I dashed by the underground current, which seemed to grow more powerful as I advanced, until my head grazed repeatedly against the wall over me, and I felt like giving myself up for lost. Oh, how bitterly I regretted the curiosity which had led me to explore the cavern in which chance had so strangely placed me!

But now what was this a light? At first I could scarcely believe the evidence of my senses. There was a bright flash then total blackness again.

What could it mean? Perhaps I was dreaming or the fearful situation had turned my brain. Then came a second flash and a revelation.

It was the lightning from without, shining through some opening into the waters under and around me! I was nearing the outer world. Oh, for a breath of fresh air again!

Even as the thought crossed my mind, my head struck the rocky ceiling again, and under I went, to find that I could not come up, the water now rising to the very rocks. But a stronger light could be seen, and I dove along, came up once, twice and then emerged into the open air with a splutter and a gasp, on the verge of exhaustion.

The underground stream emerged at the very base of the mountain, and on both sides were level stretches of swamps, covered with rushes and other tropical growths. Swimming for the nearest bank, I drew myself up and fell on my breast, too worn out to stand.

It did not matter to me just then that it was night, that I was alone, and that it was raining in torrents. I was safe from drowning that was my one thought, and never was a thought sweeter to a boy.

For fully fifteen minutes I remained on the bank of the stream. Then, having recovered somewhat from the effects of my awful experience, I arose and took as good a view of my situation as was possible. I waited for a strong flash of lightning, and by this saw that my former wish had been realized and that I was within a few hundred feet of the river upon which the convent was said to be located.

While the storm and the night lasted there was nothing to do but to seek shelter wherever it might be found; and, as the lightning now appeared to die away, I walked to the very mountain side, and found shelter under an overhanging rock, flanked by several tall trees. Here I wrung what water I could from my clothing and made myself as comfortable as my miserable condition permitted.

Never was a person more glad to see the sun than I. Old Sol came up clear and strong, and my clothing quickly dried upon my body as I walked along.

Passing around the swamps, which were full of monstrous toads and numerous lizards, I reached the bank of the larger stream and started to hunt for the convent for which Alano, Jorge, and myself had been bound.

As I hurried on, as rapidly as the formation of the ground permitted, I could not help but wonder what had become of my chum and our negro guide. Had they escaped, to roam around looking for me, or had they fallen into the hands of the Spaniards at the coffee plantation?

Having had no breakfast, it was not long before I began to feel hungry. To satisfy the cravings of my appetite I picked several almost ripe plantains, which, however, proved rather poor eating. I also spent some time in a hunt for berries, but none were to be found.

By noon I calculated I had covered four or five miles, and reached a narrow woods, growing on both sides of the river. Beyond the woods was a village, a decidedly poor-looking settlement composed of a score of rude dwellings built of logs and thatched with palm leaves to keep out the rain.

I did not know whether to enter the village or not, and remained in the woods for some time, watching the inhabitants, consisting of a score of men and women and perhaps fifty children of all ages. The children were dirty, and wore hardly any clothing, but they seemed to be as happy as though such a thing as war had never been mentioned. Most of the men were at work curing some wild-hog meat, while the women were engaged in braiding mats and other articles for sale or exchange.

At last three of the children, running close to the woods, espied me, and set up a shout of wonder and alarm, at which the men stopped work and came rushing forward with their clubs and machetes. Seeing there was no help for it, I stepped out into the open, and was immediately surrounded.

Not a soul in the settlement, which went by the name of Jiawacadoruo, could speak a word of English, and for the time being I was partly at a loss to make them understand that I came as a friend who meant no harm. At the word Americano they grinned, and one of them queried Cuba libre? [For Cuban liberty?] and I nodded. Then I pointed to my mouth and stomach to signify that I was hungry.

At once half a dozen of the women rushed off, and soon I was presented with several bowls of broth, made of chicken meat and vegetables, strongly flavored with the inevitable garlic, and a pot of strong black coffee. There was also a dish of boiled arrowroot, made from the native maranta, and this tasted best of all to me.

While I was eating I tried, by every means in my power, to make these Cubans understand that I wanted to find the old convent, but failed utterly. Finally an idea struck me, and I essayed to carry it out. Tearing a page from a blank book in my pocket, I drew upon it a rough representation of a river and pointed to the stream, at which the men gathered around nodded that they understood.

Next I drew the picture of a boy at one end of the river, and pointed to myself. I am not by any means an artist; but we had had drawing lessons at Broxville Academy, and I managed to represent the boy as walking rapidly, as if in a great hurry to get to where he was going. This caused the men to laugh heartily.

The next thing to do was to draw the old convent. Never having heard the structure described, I had to draw entirely upon my imagination, and my knowledge of convent architecture was decidedly limited. Yet I managed to draw a fairly good representation of a ruined stone building, with a cross at the top, and before it put a priest, to whom, by an inspiration, I suddenly pointed and cried Father Anuncio.

A dozen exclamations followed, and the men nodded to show that they now knew what was wanted. A parley followed, and one tall negro stepped forth and motioned that he was ready to be my guide by pointing first to me and then to my picture of the old convent.

Luckily I still retained a few silver pieces in my pocket, and before leaving I left two of these behind, to be divided among the crowd of negroes, for let me say in passing that all of the inhabitants of Jiawacadoruo are people of color. With my newly made guide I started up the river, and the settlement was soon lost to sight.

I wondered how long it would take to reach the old convent, and tried to put the question to Bumbo, as I made his name out to be, but without success. Instead of answering with his fingers or by pointing to the sun, he merely grinned and walked faster, until it was all I could do to keep up with him.

It was almost sundown when we passed a bend in the stream and mounted a bluff overlooking a wide expanse of swamp land. The topmost point of the bluff reached, the guide pointed ahead, and there, almost at our feet, I saw the massive outlines of what long years before had been an imposing Spanish convent, planted in that out-of-the-way spot for certain noble families who had left Spain under a cloud during the wars of the seventeenth century.

As we approached the building, which was now little more than a mass of ruins, I saw several men standing just outside of the inclosed courtyard. One was a priest, and two others were in the uniform of officers in the Cuban army. One of the latter I recognized as Se?or Guerez, having met the gentleman once while he was on a business visit to the United States.

Se?or Guerez! I called out, as I ran to him; and he turned in amazement.

Mark Carter! he ejaculated, with a strong Spanish accent. I am much astonished.

Is my father with you? I demanded eagerly, as I looked around.

No, my boy; I am sorry to say it.

And where is he? I went on, my heart rising to my throat, as I saw a look of anxiety cross the gentlemans bronzed features.

Your father was made a prisoner by the Spanish authorities two days ago, replied the se?or, and the answer all but prostrated me.

CHAPTER XXI.
THE ATTACK ON THE OLD CONVENT

My father a prisoner! I gasped out, when I could speak.

Yes, Mark.

And how was he captured? and why?

It is rather a long story. But tell me, where is Alano? And now it was Se?or Guerez' turn to become anxious.

In a few words I explained matters, to which the planter listened with close attention. His brow darkened when I mentioned the Spaniards up at the coffee plantation.

I know them, he said. We are expecting an attack from them every day.

An attack at this place?

Yes. He turned to his companions, and introduced me to Father Anuncio and to Lieutenant Porlando, both of whom shook hands warmly when they were informed who I was. You see, many of the planters have brought their families here, Se?or Guerez went on, "and the Spanish think to subdue us if they can make our wives and daughters prisoners. But that shall never be while we have strength to fight."

Tell me of my father, I said impatiently.

Come inside, my boy, said Alanos father; and giving Bumbo a bit of silver I sent him off, and followed the others into the courtyard, in the rear of which was the convent building proper, although wings extended out upon both sides.

In a shady corner I was introduced to La Se?ora Guerez and to Alanos two sisters, Inez and Paula, two girls of ten and twelve, now quite as dark as their father and mother, and very beautiful, with their black wavy hair and sparkling eyes full of good humor and merriment. Mother and daughters could speak a little English, and for Alanos sake they fairly made me feel like one of the family.

I was impatient to hear about my father; and as soon as the se?or had told the others of what I had said concerning Alano, Se?or Guerez told me his story.

As soon as we felt that the war was going to be severe and probably of long duration, said he, "your father and I telegraphed to Dr. Walford to keep you at Broxville Academy until you heard from us by letter. Two days later came a return message stating that you had already gone to New York and taken steamer for Cuba. The worthy doctor could not tell by what route you had gone.

"This being the case, your father and I concluded to let you come on, and I dispatched Pedro, one of my faithful servants, to meet you at Santiago de Cuba and conduct you in safety to the plantation, where your father was still down with his broken leg, which was, however, mending rapidly.

"Several days went by, and matters became very troublesome about my plantation. Some of the men had joined the Cuban forces under Brigadier General Jos? Maceo, a brother to the late Antonio Maceo, and my neighbors begged me to join also and become captain of a company of white Cubans they not caring to serve under Maceo or Garcia and also not caring to go as far west as where the forces under General Gomez were located.

"While I was deliberating, a body of Spanish guerrillas came along and burned down two of my largest storehouses and threatened my wife with violence. This angered me, and I got my gun and shot two of the rascals one in the leg and the other in the shoulder. A battle royal ensued between my workmen and the guerrillas, and the guerrillas received the worst of the encounter and were forced to retreat, with three men wounded and one man dead.

"This settled the matter, and I joined the Cuban forces under Garcia without delay. Your father also took part in the battle and saved my wife from great indignities. When I called my white men together, and my white neighbors, they speedily formed a company of volunteers, and I was chosen the captain, with Lieutenant Porlando for my first officer and your father for second lieutenant. We were all supplied with good horses and first-class weapons, and the very next day after effecting our organization defeated a body of the Spanish troops and drove them ten miles up the road and away from the mountains which General Garcia is using as a stronghold.

As it was perilous in the extreme to leave the women-folks home alone while the men were away, it was decided by me and my neighbors to bring them all here and leave them with Father Anuncio and a strong guard. It was believed that no one would dare molest any woman while sheltered by this old convent. There are within the walls over a dozen ladies and nearly thirty children, besides a company of picked men and six men who were wounded at one time or another.

But my father? I put in, as the se?or paused.

"I am coming to that, Mark. It was two days ago that our company was in the vicinity of Guantanamo. I had received valuable information concerning the contemplated movements of the Spanish troops, and this information I wished to place in the hands of General Garcia and his staff. Your father offered to find a certain captain, while another of the company rode off to find the general.

Your father was accompanied by a private named Hawley, an American who settled near me several years ago. The pair were gone about six hours when Hawley came riding back to our camp, severely wounded in the thigh. He said they had met a company of Spanish soldiers, who had discovered them ere they were aware. Your father had been taken a prisoner, while Hawley had had a hard time of it to escape.

And have you heard of him since then? I asked anxiously.

"I heard from him yesterday. Some of our soldiers, while tramping through the woods, came across a Spaniard who was severely wounded. They treated him as well as he could possibly expect, dressed his wounds, and gave him a supply of water and bread and meat; and in return he told them about their prisoner, your father. He said your father was to be sent on to the authorities at Santiago as an American spy."

A spy!

Yes, my boy, a spy. It is, of course, a foolish charge, but I am afraid it may cause your father a good deal of trouble.

Why, they place spies in dungeons and often shoot them, Se?or Guerez!

Let us hope for the best, Mark, he returned soothingly.

Would they dare shoot an American citizen?

Unfortunately your father was caught wearing a Cuban uniform and with our flag pinned to his hat as I have it.

I bowed my head, and something like tears started to my eyes. This news was awful. Supposing my father was shot as a spy? I would be left alone in the world. Overcome by my emotions, I felt compelled to turn away, when Se?or Guerez placed a kindly hand on my shoulder.

Dont be too downcast, my boy. It may not go so badly with your parent, and I will do all I can for both of you. As soon as I can arrange certain matters with the men who are in charge here, I will follow up those who have your father in charge and see if he cannot be rescued.

Oh, will you do that? I cried, catching his hand. You are more than kind, Se?or Guerez!

We were about to continue the conversation, when the lieutenant to whom I had been introduced came rushing up all out of breath. He had been walking down by the river, field-glass in hand, and had made an important discovery, which he imparted to the others in Spanish.

It was to the effect that a large body of Spanish soldiers were riding through the woods, back of the river, and it looked as if they were bound for the old convent. They were heavily armed, and on the back of a mule could be seen a small cannon.

As I expected, muttered Se?or Guerez. Ill take a look at them.

He ran up to the roof of the convent, glass in hand, and, nobody stopping me, I followed him. A long, searching look and he dashed down the glass, hurried below, and issued a dozen rapid orders.

Men flew in all directions, some to get their guns and pistols, and others to shut the gates leading to the courtyard and to place square bits of blocks into the deep windows.

I tried to get an explanation from somebody, but all were too busy. Se?or Guerez was the only one who gave me a hint of what was wrong.

'Tis a body of Spanish soldiers led by a priest who is a rival to Father Anuncio. He wishes to get the good father to give up this old convent, which means that we must vacate too. It is a ruse of the enemy.

No more was said. Quarter of an hour later a white flag was waved and a man came up to the old convent gates. A short talk ensued between him, Se?or Guerez, Father Anuncio, and several others, and then the man withdrew.

Hardly had he gone than all of us heard the cracks of a dozen or more guns, and as many bullets flattened themselves on the convent walls.

They have opened the fight, remarked Se?or Guerez grimly, while several of the women and children shrieked. Now we will show them what we can do.

He selected the best of his soldiers, and placed them at convenient loopholes in the upper part of the old building. Weapons were ready for use, and at a word of command the fire of the Spaniards was returned.

A yell of surprise and rage went up, and there immediately followed another volley of musketry from without. This was returned, and this sort of thing lasted for quarter of an hour, when the enemy retired behind the bluff I have previously mentioned.

But they did not remain quiet long. Presently, looking through his field-glass, Se?or Guerez announced that they had succeeded in mounting the cannon they had brought along. The weapon was duly loaded and sighted, and we awaited with thrilling interest the effect of this rather formidable weapon.

CHAPTER XXII.
THE ROUTING OF THE ENEMY

Boom!

The Spanish gunners had fired the cannon perched on the bluff, its muzzle pointed directly for the doors of the old convent.

Hardly had we heard the report than there was a crash and the splinters flew in every direction. The shot had struck the frame of the doors and shattered it badly.

A cry of rage went up from the Cubans, and, rushing to the loopholes left in the blocked-up windows, they sought to pick off the gunners with their carbines. But the Spaniards prudently kept out of sight, so this movement was useless.

Two more shots like that, and the doors will come down, muttered Se?or Guerez, with a grave shake of his head. I wish we had a cannon to fire in return.

A consultation was held, and all of the women and children were told to retire to an inner room of the convent, where the damage done by the cannon might not reach them.

This had scarcely been accomplished when the Spaniards fired a second shot. But their aim was poor, and the ball only plowed up the ground fifty feet outside of the courtyard.

Se?or, or rather Captain, Guerez, as I should now call him, collected his men together, and a short but exciting debate took place, only a few words of which were plain to me. Alanos father favored leaving the convent by a rear passage-way leading to a woods and surprising the enemy by coming up in their rear.

Just as a third shot from the cannon struck the roof of the convent and tore off a corner of the stonework, it was agreed upon to carry out this project. Four men were left to exhibit themselves occasionally, so that the Spaniards might think the soldiers still there, and Alanos father asked me to remain with them.

I do not advise you to take part in the fighting, he said. But if you find it necessary to defend yourself, youll find guns in plenty in the dining-hall closet, with cartridges in one of the drawers.

In less than ten minutes the company of soldiers, fifty-six strong, were on their way, leaving the convent as silently as shadows. The moment the last of them had taken to the passage-way, the entrance was closed and bolted, and I found myself left behind with the women and children and the four guards, none of whom could speak a word of English.

After firing the third shot the Spaniards paused, probably to hold a council of war. To divert suspicion from the movements of Captain Guerez and his men, the four guards and myself passed out in plain sight of them several times. Of course we did not remain long, nor did we show ourselves in the same place twice. Our appearance called forth half a dozen shots from as many muskets, but we were too far off for these to have any effect. One bullet did hit near where a guard had shown himself, but its force was spent and it did no damage.

Nearly half an hour had passed, when suddenly we heard a yell and a wild shouting, and all of the Spaniards dashed into view, running hither and thither as though panic-stricken. Captain Guerez had surprised them completely, and they thought it was a re-enforcement for the old convent and not the soldiers from that place themselves. A hundred shots rang out, and, using a field-glass, I saw that the Spaniards were completely demoralized. They formed into a hollow square once, but this was speedily broken up, and then off they rode and ran, helter-skelter, down the bluff and across the river, some fording and some swimming, for their very lives.





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