Fighting in Cuban Waters/Chapter 23

CHAPTER XXIII


IN A SPANISH PRISON


The Spaniards who had taken Walter a prisoner were the most villanous the youth had ever be held. They were all short, thin, and exceedingly yellow, as though suffering from tropical complaints, and looked more than half starved. Their clothing was in rags, for they had been in the wilds of the island, thousands of miles from home, for nearly two years, and a heartless, or poverty-stricken, military department had failed to supply them with what they absolutely needed.

None of them could speak English, and several talked volubly in Spanish, at which Walter could do nothing but shake his head and shrug his shoulders. He was motioned to arise, and as he did so his pistol was taken from him, and presently his hands were fastened tightly behind his back.

The course of the party was along the river to a rude bridge, over which Walter was marched in double-quick time. They emerged upon a narrow highway, along which they encountered half a dozen detached Spanish companies, some moving eastward and others in the opposite direction. "I'm in for it now," thought the youth. "Escaping from this crowd will be out of the question."

Night was well advanced when they turned into a small settlement fronting Guantanamo Bay. Here were half a dozen log houses thatched with palm, while not far off was the office of a mineral company, now deserted by the proprietors, for business in this section of Cuba had long since come to a standstill.

Without ceremony Walter was taken to one of the log huts and thrust inside. The place was scarcely twenty feet square and was crowded with fifteen or sixteen insurgents, whites and negroes, who huddled on the floor, making themselves as comfortable as possible in their miserable surroundings. On the outside of the hut eight Spanish soldiers stood on guard, with rifles ready to shoot down the first prisoner that attempted to escape.

"Un Americano!" exclaimed one of the prisoners, a bright looking Cuban, as he edged his way to Walter's side. "You are in a sorry plight, boy."

"What a vile-smelling place!" murmured Walter. "How long have you been here?"

"Two days and nights, with only some stale bread and soup to eat,—and the soup was made of mouldy meat. Oh, that we were free!"

"Silencio!" roared one of the guards, and poked his rifle end into the doorway. "I will shoot the first prisoner who dares to speak again!" he added in Spanish.

Walter wished to question him, but did not dare, and so remained silent. It was past midnight, and presently most of the prisoners went to sleep. Huddled in a corner, the lad gave himself up to his dismal reflections.

Daybreak found the Spanish soldiers very active, and catching a glimpse of them through the open doorway, Walter felt that some important movement was contemplated. As a matter of fact the marines from the Panther had landed, and the Spaniards were going to do their best to either capture them or drive them back to our warships.

Before noon the firing in the distance was heavy, and the Spaniards could be seen rushing their commands hither and thither, as though hardly knowing how to conduct the campaign which had been thrust upon them. Evidently they realized that landing force was too large for them, for they gradually fell back, occupying that night the settlement where the prison was located.

On the day following, the attack upon both sides was renewed. The rattle of musketry was almost constant, and before long several bullets hit the prison itself. The prisoners were about to remonstrate at this when, on looking out, they discovered that their late guards had fled, leaving them to do as they pleased.

"Cuba libre!" yelled the insurgents and lost no time in piling into the open air. Not far away lay several dead Spaniards, and rushing up to the corpses they stripped them of their arms, after which they disappeared into the brush.

"I wonder if the army of invasion has come," was Walter's thought, as he, too, sought the open air. A short sword lay beside a writing-table under a near-by shelter, and he appropriated the weapon. "I'm going to join our men or know the reason why!" And away he went toward the water, which could now be seen quite plainly between the rocks and hills.

The marines, after fighting from early afternoon until the following morning, were now intrenched on a small hill, protected in front by a dense chaparral. They were utterly worn out, and it was found necessary to reënforce them by men from the Marblehead and other vessels. Several fieldguns had been brought ashore, and although the firing from the Spaniards was heavy, our gallant men held the ground they had first claimed.

"Halt! Who comes there?" came the command, from a thicket, and Walter stopped short, although the words, spoken in true English, filled him with joy.

"Are you an American?" questioned the youth, eagerly.

"I am, and who are you?"

"Walter Russell, cruiser Brooklyn. Oh, but am I not glad to get back among the boys again!"

"From the Brooklyn? What are you doing ashore here?" questioned the marine, a bronzed but evidently a good-natured man of middle age.

"It's a long story. I've been a prisoner twice, and I was afraid I was about done for when the guards up and ran away from the prison and let me and a crowd of Cubans escape. How can I get back to my ship?"

"You're asking me too much now. Go down yonder and report to our commander. I reckon there ain't no call to rouse up the corporal of the guard, with everybody utterly worn out. You're true blue—I can see that by the cut of your jib."

Inside of five minutes more Walter found himself surrounded by half a dozen officers, including a major of marines, who questioned him closely regarding his adventures and concerning the various detachments of Spanish soldiers that he had encountered.

"You've been through a good deal, lad," said the major, slapping Walter on the shoulder. "I dare say you wouldn't like to go through it again."

"No, indeed! The Spaniards are—are brutes!" exclaimed the youth. "I only hope we send them from Cuba a-flying. I think they and the Cubans must have been fighting for the past three years like a lot of cats and dogs. It's high time Uncle Sam took a hand." This reply brought forth a hearty laugh from those gathered around. Walter, young as he was, had hit the nail right on the head, as later events proved.

The major of marines did not see how the lad could be transferred to the Brooklyn, which was a good many miles off, in the direction of Santiago. "You'll have to remain here until some boat bound for Commodore Schley's flagship chances along," he said. "At present only the Marblehead, Suwanee, and Porter are here, but others are coming and going constantly."

"And what of the army of invasion?" asked Walter, with keen interest.

"I believe it has already left Key West. I know it started from Tampa several days ago."

"Was the Seventy-first New York with the troops?"

"They were. Why do you ask?"

"My brother is a member of that regiment. Hurrah! He'll be down here soon," concluded Walter.

He was now dismissed, and lost no time in hunting up one of the marines' cooks, who speedily filled him up with meat, bread and butter, and coffee. "We're not living like kings, you see," said the cook, but grinning to see how the food disappeared.

"You're living like kings in comparison to the way the Cubans and the Spaniards are living. If the army comes up and besieges Santiago, I'll wager the city will go hungry in no time," returned the boy.

During the balance of the day the marines were kept busy resisting several additional attacks from the Spaniards. The onslaughts were heavy and determined, but each time the enemy was beaten back, and at nightfall Old Glory still waved from, the flagstaff where it had originally been run up. A foothold had been gained by our side which was not to be taken from us.

Walter had selected a cosy corner to rest in and was sleeping soundly when a sudden alarm rang out. "The Dons! They are coming over a thousand strong! To arms, everybody!" And then came a grand rush.

The report was true; the Spanish column had organized a midnight attack, feeling they knew the ground much better in the dark than would their opponents. On they came, yelling like demons, while the marines stood their ground firmly and fearlessly.

"I must do my share of fighting," thought the boy, and bounced up with the rest. He had already been supplied with a carbine and ammunition, and now he lost no time in attaching himself to the nearest company at hand. "Don't send me back, captain; I can shoot as well as the rest, I think."

"All right, lad, come on," was the answer. "Company, attention! By columns of fours—forward, march!" And away they went, up a small hill. Then came the order to halt, and the company broke up into a broad skirmish line. "Take aim! Fire!" And then and there Walter did his first actual fighting for Uncle Sam and our own glorious stars and stripes.

The determined front shown by our marines nonplussed the Spaniards for a few minutes, and they came to a halt. But then they advanced again, and the fire from each side became hot and irregular.

The battle had thus waged for the best part of an hour, and the Americans felt that they must be beaten back by sheer force of numbers, when reënforcements came up, and in addition one of the warships steamed close to shore, and threw the rays of her powerful searchlight upon the enemy. As soon as the Spaniards were located the warship trained its rapid-firing guns inland, and then the enemy beat a hasty retreat.

"Hurrah! The fight is ours!" shouted Walter, enthusiastically. "See them run!"

"It was lucky for us the warship came up," put in a marine beside him. "Those dagos ain't going to give ground without a big fight, that's certain."

It was nearly daylight when the company returned to the camp and was dismissed. Walter was more worn out than ever, but too excited to sleep. "At present I'd just as lief be a marine," he observed to his side partner in the contest.

"Oh, don't worry, your ships will have their hands full when Cervera takes it into his head to come out and fight," was the answer. "You'll have no such walkover as Dewey had at Manila—I'll promise you that."

At noon a lieutenant of marines came up to where Walter stood, watching a drill which was in progress. "Are you Walter Russell, of the Brooklyn?" he asked.

"I am, sir," and Walter saluted.

"Then you had better hurry down to the shore. There is a steam launch there, and I heard the officer in command say he was bound for the Iowa and the Brooklyn. If you want to get on your ship, I presume he will take you along."

Walter waited to hear no more, but ran for the landing-place with all possible speed. The boat had come in with despatches and was to leave again inside of ten minutes. The officer in charge was close at hand, and the youth's situation was speedily explained.

"All right, I'll take you," was the brief answer. "Go aboard and forward." And the officer turned away. Walter did as directed; and a few minutes later the steam launch left the landing-place and steamed down Guantanamo Bay toward the ocean, or to be more particular perhaps, the Caribbean Sea.