Edward Stratemeyer.

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





The engagement had lasted less than quarter of an hour when some of the Cubans came riding toward the convent gates, bringing with them several wounded men some of their own party and three of the Spaniards who had been captured.

Captain Guerez had, in the meantime, followed the Spanish leader across the stream. The pursuit was kept up for nearly half an hour, at the end of which time the Spaniards were driven so far off it was likely they would not dare to return for a long while, if at all.

When Alanos father came back it was found he had received a sword thrust through the fleshy part of the leg. The wound was not a dangerous one, but it was painful, and his wife and daughters did all they could to ease his sufferings.

I am sorry for your sake, Mark, that I am wounded, he remarked, as he rested upon a cot. I will have to keep quiet for a few days, and thus our quest after your father will have to be delayed.

You wouldnt dare to leave here just yet anyway, would you? I asked, much disappointed, yet feeling that it was no more than I could expect.

"Hardly, my boy. I do not expect those Spaniards to return; we have given them far more than they expected. They would not attack us without re-enforcements, and there are no other Spanish troops within a good many miles."

Now that the old convent had been once attacked, it was decided to keep a strict watch, day and night, upon the roof and through the grounds. A detail of men was formed, instructions to keep a constant lookout given, and then Captain Guerez passed over his command temporarily to Lieutenant Porlando.

The remainder of the day passed quietly enough, I occupying the time in repairing my clothing, which needed many a stitch. In this work the elder of Alanos sisters helped me, Se?ora Guerez keeping by her husbands side and having the younger sister to assist her.

I found Inez Guerez a most companionable girl. Her stock of English was as limited as was my knowledge of Spanish, yet we managed to make each other understand, laughing roundly over the mistakes we made. When I mentioned Alano and told what great friends we were, tears stood in her dark eyes, and she said she trusted he would soon reach the old convent in safety. My father and she had also become great friends, and she said she hoped he would escape from his Spanish captors ere they had a chance to thrust him into a dungeon at Santiago.

Having had no sleep the night before, I retired early, and was soon in the land of dreams, despite the many misgivings I had concerning my fathers welfare. Fervently I prayed that he might escape from the Spaniards who held him, and that we might speedily be reunited.

When I awoke in the morning the sky was darkly overcast and it was raining furiously. The downpour caused the river to rise, and the lower end of the old convent was partly under water.

A fair breakfast was had, consisting of coffee, bread, and some fried plantains, which to me tasted particularly fine, and then I went to Captain Guerez, to find him much improved and in good spirits.

We would not go off anyway in such a storm as this, he said, as he sipped a bowl of coffee.

It will be fresh and cool after it is over, and by that time I think I will be able to ride once more, and I think my cousin will come to remain with my wife and girls.

The downpour up to noon was terrific, then the sun came out strongly, and the hills and valleys were covered with a heavy mist as the water evaporated. By sundown it became cooler, and the roof of the old convent proved a most delightful lounging place.

We were all out there, watching the shadows as the sun set behind the hills in the west, when one of the guards announced that two men were approaching from a trail leading through the woods to the northwest. A field-glass was at once procured, and Lieutenant Porlando took a long look at them.

A black and a boy, he announced in Spanish, and I leaped forward and begged for the use of the glass for a minute. My request was readily granted, and I waited for the two newcomers to reappear among the trees.

They are Alano and Jorge! I exclaimed a minute later.

Alano! cried my chums sisters. Are you certain?

Yes, it is Alano, and he carries his arm in a sling.

And down we rushed in a body and asked to be let out of the courtyard. Inez was the first to emerge into the open, and off she rushed at full speed, to find herself a minute later in Alanos arms, with Paula close behind.

CHAPTER XXIII.
ON THE TRAIL OF MY FATHER

Mark! ejaculated my Cuban chum, when, on releasing himself from his sisters' embraces, he espied me. So you have reached here before me. I am very glad to see it.

You are wounded? I queried, as we shook hands. Had it not been for the girls and Jorge we would have fairly hugged each other. How did that happen?

Its quite a story. Are my father and mother safe?

Yes, although your father, too, is wounded.

Those soldiers at the coffee plantation, then, did not manage to catch you?

No.

They caught me and Jorge, and we were their prisoners for five or six hours. We would not have gotten away, only Jorge bribed one of the servants at the plantation, another negro. He cut the cords with which we were bound, and we got out of the cellar into which we were put at night.

And that wound?

I got that when they came after us, ten minutes later. They couldnt see us and fired blindly, and I got a bullet across the forearm. But its a mere scratch, Alano added, as he saw Inez and Paula look serious.

He wanted to know all about my adventures, but there was no time to tell of them just then, for the convent gates were soon reached and here Alanos mother met him and, after a warm embrace, led him to his fathers side. It was a happy family gathering, and I thought it best to withdraw for the time being. I walked again to the roof; and an hour later Alano joined me there.

His story was soon told. After escaping from the coffee plantation he and Jorge had become lost like myself in the forest. They, however, had not made their way to the mountain side, but had entered a valley between that mountain and the next, and, coming to a branch of the river, had floated down it until overtaken by the storm at night.

The storm had driven them to shelter under some shelving rocks, and here a temporary camp was made and Jorge went out on a search for food. Little could be found, but in the morning the guide had brought down several birds with a stick and these they had cooked and eaten with keen relish. The way was then resumed, when, at noon, they had found themselves on the wrong road and many miles out of their way.

Jorge was much chagrined at his mistake and wanted Alano to kick him for his thoughtlessness. The stream was left, and they took a cut through the woods, which at last brought them to the old convent, as described.

When Alano had finished, I told him my story in all of its details, especially my adventures in the mountain stream and on the underground river. He listened in silent amazement.

It was a wonderful escape! he cried, when I was through. A wonderful escape! I would like some day to explore that cave.

It was nothing but a big hole in the ground, and I never want to see it again, I answered, with a shudder. But now you are here, what do you expect to do?

If my father will permit me, Ill join you and him in the search for your father, he answered. But it may be that he will wish me to remain here with my mother and my sisters.

Yes, somebody ought to remain with them, Alano.

My father is expecting Se?or Noenti, a relative of mine. If he comes he will look after my mother and sisters. He is a very brave and powerful man.

Alano and I slept together that night, just as we had often done at Broxville Academy. It was a good deal to me to have my chum by me again. We had missed each other more than mere words can tell.

We had just finished breakfast the next day, and Captain Guerez was trying to walk around a bit on his wounded leg, when several newcomers were announced. Among them was Se?or Noenti, who was warmly received by the Guerez family.

During the morning it was arranged that he should remain at the old convent during Captain Guerez' absence, and by hard pleading Alano obtained permission to join us in our hunt for my father. Jorge and three other trusty men were to go along also. Alanos father pronounced himself quite able to ride, and each of us was fitted out with a good horse, a brace of pistols, and a quantity of ammunition sufficient to last for several engagements. We also carried with us two days' rations. When they were gone we would have to depend upon what we found for our meals. But armed as we were, and in a country where everything grew in profusion, it was not likely that such a small body would lack for something to eat. Starvation was common in the regular Cuban army, but only when the troops remained in one mountainous region for a long while and ate up everything in sight.

Captain Guerez had a well-formed idea concerning the highways and trails the party having my father a prisoner would take; and, after an affectionate farewell to his wife and daughters, he led our little party up past the bluff the Spaniards had occupied and along a path skirting the mountain which had caused me so much trouble. Our horses were fresh, and we made good time until sunset, when we reached a small village called Molino. Here there were a number of blacks and the poorer class of whites. All, however, made us welcome, and here it was decided to remain for the night.

The principal man living in the place was a Spaniard named Curilos, a fellow who years before had been a sailor. He was a comical fellow in the extreme and a good singer, accompanying himself in singing on a home-made guitar, a rough-looking instrument, but one very sweet in tone. How a sailor had ever settled there was a mystery to me, but there he was and apparently more than content.

Curilos' home was of long tree branches, fastened together with tough vines, which grow everywhere in profusion. The branches were twined and intertwined and lashed to four corner-posts. The roof of this abode was covered with dried palm leaves, and was quite water-proof. In one corner was a rude fireplace of stone, and the smoke curled up through a hole in a corner of the building.

I slept in this structure on a hammock stretched from one corner-post to another. It was as good a bed as one would desire had it not been for one thing, as disgusting to me as it was annoying: the house was overrun with vermin a not uncommon thing, even in the dwellings of the middle classes.

It was hardly sunrise when Alanos father called us for breakfast, after which we leaped into the saddle once more and rode off at a stiff gait. The ride of the afternoon had left me a little sore, I not as yet being used to such traveling, but I made up my mind not to complain, as it would do no good and only worry Captain Guerez and my chum. Riding never bothered Alano, as he had been used to the high, stiff Spanish saddle from early boyhood.

As we proceeded on our way we of course kept a strict lookout for enemies, and on more than one occasion Alanos father called a halt, while he rode ahead to make certain that the road was clear.

If were not careful the Spaniards may surprise us and make us all prisoners, he said grimly. "Although I hardly think any troops are near us at present," he added a minute later.

Having stopped for dinner in the middle of a dense woods, we rode out in the afternoon on a broad plateau overlooking numerous valleys. Far to the southward could be seen the buildings in Guantanamo. By the aid of the field-glass Captain Guerez pointed out a portion of his immense plantation.

As this was the first sight I had had of Alanos home, I gazed at it with interest. While I was looking, I saw a small column of smoke curling upward from a broad stretch of canefields. I watched it for several seconds, and then called Alanos attention to it.

There should be no smoke there, he said gravely, and called his father, who had turned away for the moment to give Jorge some directions.

What is it smoke? cried Captain Guerez, snatching the glass. Let me see if you are not mistaken. He gave a searching look and then a groan. You are right, boys, the Spaniards have kept their word. They threatened to burn down my fields if I did not declare in their favor, and now they are doing it. In a few hours the whole of my property will be nothing more than a blackened waste!

CHAPTER XXIV.
IN THE BELT OF THE FIREBRANDS

Do you mean to say, father, that they will dare to burn down all of our sugar-cane fields? demanded Alano.

Dare, Alano? They will dare do anything, now they have heard that I have thrown in my fortunes with the insurgents, replied Captain Guerez bitterly.

What of your house and barns? I put in soberly.

Most likely they will be ransacked first and then the torch will be applied, answered Alanos father with increased bitterness. Ah, well, such are the fortunes of war. Cuba libre! he muttered firmly.

Alanos parent was first tempted to ride in the direction of his plantation in the hope of saving something, but speedily gave up the idea. There was no direct course hither, and the roundabout trail which must be pursued would not bring him to Guantanamo until the next morning.

"And by that time the Spaniards will have done their dastardly work and gone on," he remarked.

Several times as we rode along the plateau, Captain Guerez stopped to take a look through the field-glass, but he said nothing more excepting in an undertone to his son.

By sundown the plateau came to an end, and we plunged into a valley which was for the most part divided into immense sugar plantations, some of them half a mile or more in length.

This is something like that at home, remarked Alano to me, as we moved on side by side. That is, like it was, he hastened to add.

The fields will grow again, wont they? I asked.

Oh, yes; but my fathers loss will be very great.

I suppose so. Did he have much sugar on hand?

The storehouses were full. You see, shipments have been at a standstill for a year or more.

It will take a long while, after the war is over, to get back to prosperity, I am afraid, Alano?

"It will take years, and perhaps prosperity will never come. General Garcia is determined to fight to the bitter end, and so is General Gomez, and so long as both remain among the mountains and forests it will be impossible for the Spaniards to make them surrender. I heard father say we could lead the Spanish troops a dance from one spot to another for years, and in the meantime Spain will get no revenue from Cuba, while the expense of keeping the war up will foot up to millions of piasters something that even Spain cannot stand."

I wish it was all over, and that we were all safe, I returned shortly. Ive seen all the war I want.

And yet you havent seen any regular battle, laughed my Cuban chum. Im afraid you wouldnt make much of a fighter, Mark, if Uncle Sam got into a muss.

Oh, that would be different! I burst out. I would fight for our country every time.

Alano laughed more loudly than ever. Thats just it you would fight for the United States just as we are now willing to fight for our beloved Cuba.

I had to smile, for I saw that he was right. Cuba was as much to him as our United States was to me, and let me add that I am a Yankee lad to the backbone, and always hope to be.

Having passed the end of a large plantation, we came to several storehouses, which were wide-open and empty, and here we pitched our camp for the night.

How close are we to the spot where my father was taken? I asked of Alanos father after supper.

We have passed that locality, was the answer, which surprised me not a little. By to-morrow noon I hope to reach a village called Rodania, where I will be able probably to learn something definite concerning his whereabouts.

This was certainly encouraging, and I went to bed with a lighter heart than I had had since leaving the old convent. Hope in a youthful breast is strong, and I could not but believe that so far all had gone well with my parent.

Fortunately, the storehouse in which I slept with Alano and Captain Guerez was a clean affair, so we were not troubled as we had been at Molino with vermin. We turned in at nine oclock, and ten minutes sufficed to render me forgetful of all of my surroundings.

I awoke with a cough. I could not breathe very well, and sat up in the darkness to learn what was the matter. The wind had banged shut the storehouse door, and it was strangely hot within.

Ill open the door and let in some fresh air, I said to myself, and arose from the bunch of straw upon which I had made my bed.

As I moved across the storehouse floor I heard several of the horses which were tethered outside let out snorts of alarm. Feeling something was surely wrong, I called to Alano and his father.

Whats the trouble? cried Captain Guerez and Alano in a breath.

I dont know, but the horses are alarmed, I answered.

By this time all were aroused by a shout from Jorge, who had been left on guard. As we stepped into the open air, he came running up from a path leading into the immense sugar-cane field back of the storehouse.

Fuego! fuego! [Fire! fire!] he shouted at the top of his powerful lungs.

Where? demanded Alanos father quickly.

In the fields! A band of Spanish guerrillas just came up and set fire all around.

That cannot be, Jorge. This is the plantation of Se?or Corozan, a stanch supporter of Spain. They would not burn his fields.

Then they are rebels like ourselves.

This last remark proved true, although we did not learn the fact until some time later. It seemed Se?or Corozan had left the plantation immediately after refusing the demands of a Cuban officer for food for his soldiers, and in consequence the rebel had dispatched a detachment to burn up everything in sight. It was a wanton destruction of property, but it could not very well be avoided, through the peculiar conditions under which the war was being carried on.

Just now, however, there was no time left to think of these matters. A stiff breeze was blowing, and looking over the sugar-cane fields we could see the fire leaping from place to place. Then, turning about, we made another discovery. The very storehouse in which we had been sleeping was on fire. The smoke from the smoldering straw was what had caused me to cough and wake up.

To horse, everyone! shouted Captain Guerez. We had best get out of here, for there is no telling how far this fire extends, or how the wind may shift around!

Everyone understood what he meant that we were in danger of being caught in the midst of the conflagration; and everyone lost not an iota of time in loosening his animal and saddling him. In less than three minutes we were off, and riding down a narrow trail between the fields with all the speed at our animals' command.

As we passed along, the sky above us grew brighter, and we could hear the crackling of the cane in the distance. Then I felt a live ember drop upon my neck, which raised a small blister before I could brush it off.

Jupiter! but this is getting hot! I gasped, as I urged my horse on beside that of Alano. I wonder if there is any danger of that fire catching us?

I dont know, Im sure, he panted. The only thing we can do is to ride for the hills, where the fire wont have such a chance.

On and on we went, now in a bunch and then again scattered into two or three groups. To gain the hills we had to cross a bit of a valley, and here our poor horses sunk into the mud half up to their knees.

Captain Guerez had been riding in the rear, but now he went ahead, to shout a word of guidance to the men in advance. Alano dashed on with his father, expecting me to follow. But my horse had become temporarily stuck, and ere he could extricate himself I had to dismount.

Once free again, I was on the point of leaping into the saddle as before, when a turn of the wind brought a shower of burning embers in a whirl over our very heads. I ducked and shook them off, letting go of my steed for that purpose.

It was a foolish movement, for the embers also struck the animal, who instantly gave a snort and a bound and ran off. I made a clutch at his tail as he passed, but missed it, and a second later I found myself utterly alone, with the fire of the sugar-cane fields hemming me in on all sides!





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