Fighting in Cuban Waters/Chapter 21

CHAPTER XXI


THE FLIGHT TO THE SEACOAST


Carlos knew the wood well, and now he took hold of Walter s hand. "Put udder arm up, or get hurt maybe," he said. "Nasty trees around here." And Walter found this was true, for presently a low and twisted branch caught him and flung him flat on his back. Had his arm been down he must have been knocked senseless.

The Spanish captain and the guard came crashing along behind them, shouting "Alto!" (Halt) at the top of their lungs. Captain Coleo was very much chagrined that they had gotten away so easily, and blamed the guard roundly. The latter did not dare to answer back, and felt he must catch the fleeing prisoners or suffer for it.

The course had been straight ahead, but now Carlos turned to the southward. Presently they came to a halt at the edge of a mountain torrent. The pursuers were still on the track and drawing closer.

"Jump and go ahead; I will come after," panted Carlos, who could run no more. "Don t wait!" he added, as he saw Walter hesitate.

"But yourself—" began Walter.

"Never mind—go!" broke in the negro; and Walter made the leap over the stream and ran on. Instantly Carlos sought the shelter of a near-by tree and became silent.

"I do not see them, capitan," observed the guard, as he and Captain Coleo reached the spot. "Have they crossed, do you think?"

"I will see, Rampo," was the answer, and the captain hurried on in the direction Walter had taken. Scarcely was he out of sight than with set teeth Carlos came forth from the shadow of the tree and crawled up behind Rampo as silently as a panther seeking its prey. A quick, nervous clutch and the negro had the soldier's Mauser. Then came a heavy swing of the butt, and with hardly a groan the Spanish guard went down with a broken skull. "Cuba libre!" muttered Carlos, grimly. "That for Maceo, our fallen hero!" referring to Antonio Maceo, the patriot who had led the rebels in eastern Cuba for several years, only to be shot down at last in ambush.

In the meantime Walter ran on, not knowing where he was going, and hardly caring, if only his liberty might be assured to him. Occasionally a flash of lightning lit up the scene, but this only served to make the general darkness more intense. Soon his foot caught in an exposed tree-root, and he went headlong, and rolled over and over to the bottom of a hollow filled with rank vegetation, foul-smelling moss, and brackish water.

Before he could collect his scattered senses he heard the Spanish captain coming up. He arose slowly to his feet, but, struck by a sudden idea, remained in the hollow, ankle-deep in water, and screened from view by the vegetation previously mentioned.

A flash of lightning revealed the captain and at the same time uncovered the youth. For a second both stood spellbound, then the Spaniard drew his pistol.

"Surrender!" he shouted; and the former mildness in his tone of voice was now missing. "Surrender, or I'll shoot you where you stand."

"Don't shoot," answered Walter, readily. "I'll come out."

"Where is that Cuban rebel?"

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Surrender, or I'll Shoot You Where You Stand."

Page 234

"I don't know."

"You don't know? Ha! don't fool with me, lad—I am in no humor for it now."

"Well, I don't know, and that is all there is to it. We separated several minutes ago."

"I do not believe you—he is hiding somewhere in the hollow. Tell me where, or as sure as I stand here, I will put a bullet through your head." And the pistol was aimed straight at Walter.

Before the youth could remonstrate, indeed, before he had time to think, the crack of a Mauser penetrated the damp air. A second of silence followed, and then, to Walter's amazement, Captain Coleo sank down where he stood, a ball through his brain.

"I hit him! what a fine shot!" The words came from Carlos, as he emerged into the opening, the rifle still in hand. "That makes number two, for de udder rascal is laid low with a broken head. Señor, we are in luck, but let us make de most of our chance."

"But—but—is he dead?" asked Walter, in a hoarse whisper. To him such a proceeding seemed little less than murder.

"Dead? To be sure he is dead. But don't let dat worry you. See de blood on your left ear, where he tried to serve you as I served him. Come, before de udder soldiers arrive." And, catching Walter by the arm, Carlos hurried him away.

"And this is war!" thought the boy. "Oh, how cruel! how barbarous! But Carlos is right, the captain tried to kill me." He drew a long breath. "I'm glad I wasn't the one to knock him over."

The pair had gone on about a hundred yards further when they came out on a broad highway, used principally as an ox-team road. Here Carlos called a halt again, to get his breath and take a view of the situation.

"Hark—a horse come!" he ejaculated suddenly, and slipped a cartridge into the Mauser rifle, for he had taken the ammunition box from the dead soldier. "Back, out of sight—ah!"

Walter ran to the shelter of a tree. But at the same time the negro bounded forward, throwing the rifle to the ground. It was no horseman approaching, only one of the animals that had broken away during the heavy thunder and lightning. Making a clutch at the beast s bridle, Carlos held fast and brought the horse to a sudden halt.

"We in luck," he observed, as Walter came out of hiding. "Mount wid me, and we'll soon be miles away!"

"You get into the saddle, and I'll ride behind," answered Walter, who saw how weak Carlos now was. And thus they went on until several miles had been covered. Presently, from a distance, the youth heard the booming of the surf.

"Is that from the seacoast?" he asked; and the negro nodded. "And where are we?"

"We close to de ocean, two or three miles east from San Juan hill. We stop pretty soon—werry much tired." And Carlos closed his eyes. He would have fallen from the horse had not Walter held him fast. "Turn to left at first cross-road," he muttered, and then fainted.

"Poor chap!" thought the boy. "He kept up well, with two bullets in him. I must do what I can for him." And he urged the horse on, at the same time keeping his eyes open for the side road mentioned. Soon it came into view, and five minutes later he found himself at the entrance to a hut similar to that occupied by Josefina, who had now disappeared entirely from the scene. Beyond the hut the road lost itself in a wilderness of small brush.

The hoof-strokes of the horse had been observed, and soon several men, Cubans and negroes, came from the building. "Carlos!" cried several. They turned to Walter. "What does this mean, señor?" came in Spanish.

"Spaniards," answered Walter, and pointed behind him. Then he pointed to the gun and to the wounds Carlos had received, and also showed his own bloody ear and scalp.

The dumb language was instantly comprehended, and two men carried the unconscious negro into the hut, while others took charge of the horse and conducted Walter inside. The lad found the small abode crowded with insurgents, who had come in to escape the drenching rain, and the air was heavy with the smoke of cigarettes and the smell of a stew seasoned with garlic, which was cooking over a fire in the rear. A constant flow of conversation was kept up, of which he understood only an occasional word.

Poor Carlos was in a bad way, and by morning it was easy to see he could be removed only with difficulty. Yet he was cheerful, or tried to be so, and smiled when Walter came to him.

"I have news for you," he said, in his broken English. "Your warships fight, bang, bang, bang! down by the water, at Aguadores and udder places. Think ships go up by Guantanamo Bay, maybe. If sailors land, you have a chance to join them—not so?"

"I just hope some of our boys do land, and that right away!" cried Walter. "Can't I get somebody to show me the way to the seacoast?"

"Gilberto, my brudder, show the way. But not to-day. Maybe to-morrow or next day—when it is safe."

Gilberto had just come in; a stout negro as short as his brother was long, but a rebel fighter to the core. He, too, could speak a little English and said he had been a sailor.

"Sail from Santiago to Philadelphia twice with ore," he said. "Very nice country, America; me like de people. Only werry cold in winter; no like dat—make go dis way." And he gave a shiver. Later on, Walter learned that the entire district was rich in minerals and that large quantities of these were shipped from Santiago and from a near-by town called Baiquiri.

The day passed slowly, and so did the next. In the meanwhile the Cubans came and went. They were a detachment of Garcia s army, the main body of which was located many miles further northward. They were watching the seacoast and trying to communicate with the American ships of war, which could be seen on fair days lying in the offing. They knew that once a landing was effected by the Americans, Uncle Sam would speedily supply them with what they so greatly needed—clothing, guns, and ammunition. Once these were obtained, they felt that they could secure their independence. They had yet to learn that the trained soldiers of Spain could be conquered only by the equally, or better, trained soldiers of the States.

On the morning of the third day, and while they could distinctly hear the sounds of heavy firing in the vicinity of Morro Castle and the Estrella battery, Walter and Gilberto started off, each on horseback. The youth felt once more like himself, for the Cubans had continued to give him drinks of herbs which had entirely banished the lurking fever in his system. Before leaving Walter heard from the negress Josefina. She had escaped injury, and fled to the northward, there to join a great number of women and children, the wives and young people of the insurgents.

The course lay along a stretch of tableland and then up the side of a small mountain. At one point on the mountain top there was a clearing, and here a distant view could be obtained of the ocean to the south of the "Pearl of the Antilles," as Cuba had often been termed.

"Your ship's over dare," explained Gilberto, pointing with his long fingers. "Might see dem if we had glass like dis." And he shut up one hand and placed it over the other, in imitation of a spy-glass.

"Do the Spaniards guard the coast?"

"To be sure, señor, very heaby guard, too, at Aguadores and Guantanamo Bay."

"Then we'll have to go slow when we get near the water's edge."

"We no go to water right away, señor—wait till we see de coast clear. Gilberto find you good hiding-place and bring eating, and there you stay till I say come—not so?"

"I suppose that will be best. I'm sure I don't want to be taken prisoner again," concluded Walter, very positively.

On they went, down the opposite side of the mountain. They were now travelling in an easterly direction, and before night many miles were covered. At last they came to a series of rocks overlooking the ocean, but situated at least a quarter of a mile back from the beach proper.

"Here is a good place to hide; Gilberto know it well," said the guide, and pointed out a rude cave. "Here Americano can stay many days and Spaniards not find him. You take it easy, and I bring food to you." And then Gilberto hurried off alone.

Walter was glad to rest, for the travelling even on horseback had been very trying. He sat down, and in half an hour Gilberto returned with some bread, some jerked beef, and a number of other eatables, done up in a bit of coffee sacking.

"Dere, dat last two, free days," said the guide. "Now lay low, as Americano say, and Gilberto come back one day or udder. I take horses, and say buenas noches." And with this good night, Gilberto disappeared down the trail, leaving Walter to himself. Strange as it may seem, the youth never saw or heard of either Gilberto or Carlos again.