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Under the Star-Spangled Banner By F. S. Brereton Characters: 25371

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Two days after the memorable attack on San Juan the American cause seemed in as hopeless a condition as possible. From El Caney to the coast the troops held a long line of trenches and faced a series of works, all of which were manned by determined, though half-starved, Spaniards. To the north and west Santiago was free and open to the enemy, while, where the invading forces besieged it, their line was so thin as to be practically useless. To attempt now to press an attack home to the walls of Santiago would be to court disaster, for large re-enforcements were needed for such an action; while, if the Americans could but hold the line that they had won, they would be doing well.

The shortcomings of an army raised in haste were beginning to show. Rations from the first had been poor, and as a natural consequence men fell ill under the hardship and exposure. To these hundreds of wounded were already added, and to attend to them all there was a medical staff that was hopelessly insufficient. No provision, in fact, worthy of the name had been made. No stretcher-bearer corps had been organized, and when the wounded came crowding in, even drugs and dressings were found to be lacking. Could anything be more discouraging? No wonder that General Shafter thought the situation serious. No wonder that he telegraphed urgently for re-enforcements.

And now the strangest and most unexpected move in the campaign occurred, and altered the prospect of the war. To describe it fully, one must once more turn to Hal and Gerald, for this lucky pair had a splendid opportunity of observing everything. Both had taken part in the attack upon San Juan, and both had been wounded-Hal through the fleshy part of the thigh, and Gerald in the hand. Some hours passed before either went to obtain the services of the surgeon.

"This is rather late, young fellow," the latter said to Hal, as he rolled up his trousers and showed the wound. "I suppose you couldn't get here before?"

"Yes, we could have come earlier," Hal answered; "but you were busy, and neither of us was badly hit. But I'd be glad if you'd look at my wound now. It's painful and I feel feverish."

"Which is exactly what I was thinking. Put that under your tongue, and we'll see what the temperature is."

An examination of the thermometer showed that Hal's temperature was high, and a searching inspection of the wound revealed that it was inflamed.

"You are both feverish and out of sorts," said the surgeon, as he dressed Hal's leg. "Both with flesh wounds, which will get worse if something isn't done. I'll send you to the coast for a day or two. A blow aboard ship will set you up again."

Neither Hal nor Gerald objected, for it was already known that no active engagements would take place till re-enforcements arrived, so that if they went to sea for a day or two, they would lose none of the fun. They trudged to Siboney, therefore, and that evening were resting on board the gunboat Gloucester, a converted yacht, which happened to be lying close in beside the town when they arrived.

Many and eager were the questions put to them by the men and officers aboard, and Hal and Gerald were treated like heroes.

"Tell yer what, young fellers," said one of the men, "you boys ashore aer havin' all the fun. Why, I'd pitch all these fine rations and easy times ter Jingo, if I could slip ashore and see a trifle of the fightin'. They say that San Juan wur hot. Away out at sea we could see the Spanish shells burstin' like fireworks."

"Don't yer grumble, Jimmy," another broke in reprovingly. "Up to a week or more back, we sailors wur exceptional busy. P'raps we'll get a go in again. Thur aint never no tellin'."

How near he was to being a true prophet this sailor had no notion, nor anyone else in the American fleet. And yet, on that very evening, Admiral Cervera's fleet lay in the harbor of Santiago, with steam up, ready to slip cables and run from the harbor. But for what reason? Were not the Americans doing their utmost to capture the Spanish fleet? Then why play into their hands, and rush from security to destruction?

The question will probably never be satisfactorily answered. It is said that direct orders were received from Madrid; but in any case, on Sunday morning, the 3d of July, the whole of the Spanish fleet was observed steaming out from the harbor in bright sunlight. Instantly, every man on board the American ships was wide awake.

"Hillo! What is happening?" an officer on board the Gloucester shouted, as a puff of smoke darted from the flagship. "A gun, by Jingo! That's from the Brooklyn, the flagship while Admiral Sampson is away. Tumble up there, boys! There's fun commencing."

The bell to the engine-room at once sounded, and the Gloucester began to run towards the entrance of Santiago. Hal and Gerald immediately forgot their wounds, and hastened to help the men serving the quick-firers.

"Steady there, all!" cried the commander of the Gloucester. "Our guns are no good against battleships. Well wait for the gunboats. Evidently the whole fleet is coming out."

Led by the Infanta Maria Teresa, with Admiral Cervera aboard, a line of Spanish ships sailed from Santiago harbor, and, turning west, steamed off in single file. In all there were six, the two last being gunboats.

"Those are our mark," cried the commander, pointing to the latter. "We'll get after them at top-speed. Boys, you can commence with the guns."

Rushing forward at seventeen knots, the Gloucester began to fire her weapons, and soon shells were singing about the decks of the Pluton and the Furor, the two Spanish gunboats. Then a lucky missile crashed into the engine-room of the latter, and in a moment she was a wreck, and rapidly sinking.

"Now for the other," shouted the commander. "Give it her all you know, boys!"

The men responded with a will, and with such success that the Pluton was soon in a sinking condition, and to save her crew was run upon the rocks.

"Now we will see what else can be done," the commander of the Gloucester cried. "Keep her straight along the coast, quartermaster. Perhaps we shall be able to pick up some prisoners. Hillo! Our boys are givin' it to the Dons."

Admiral Schley's fleet was, indeed, handling the Spanish ships severely. Steaming straight in for Santiago, the Americans had put their helms to port as soon as they were well within range. Then their guns began to roar, and soon they were obscured in big clouds of smoke. Running west along the coast-line of Cuba, the Infanta Maria Teresa and her consorts returned the fire as vigorously as their poor armaments would allow, and all the time rushed ahead at their fastest pace, hoping to escape.

"They'll do it," shouted Gerald, excitedly. "They've the lead, and will get dead away."

"Not a bit of it," Hal answered quietly. "We have some fast ships out there, and the New York is patrolling the coast higher up. Admiral Cervera's fleet is doomed."

"It aer that," one of the sailors standing near by burst in. "Them 'ere ships won't run much more'n an hour. Look at 'em now, and the way the shells aer strikin'."

With eyes glued to glasses, or with hands held above the brows to keep away the glare of the sun, every officer and man on the deck of the Gloucester followed the course of the naval battle with breathless interest.

The leading Spanish vessel, the Maria Teresa, was by now nearly six miles from Santiago, but she stood not a ghost of a chance. Every available gun was turned upon her, and she was struck by no fewer than twenty-nine shells. The number of hits was actually small in comparison with the guns employed; but they were crushing blows. Two enormous twelve-inch shells crashed into her stern, shattering everything in their course towards the bows. Eight-inch, five-inch, and six-pounders exploded in every part, killing numbers of the unfortunate sailors. But even now she was steaming as steadily as ever, and was pluckily replying; for her armor casing had protected her water-line and her most vulnerable part, the engines. However, she was not to escape, for the woodwork caught fire, and as there was a great deal of it, and as the water main had been cut by the shells, she was soon a blazing mass, drifting hopelessly and helplessly towards the land.

"There's work for us there, boys," cried the commander. "Those poor fellows are roasting, so let us do what we can for them. Mr. Morton, tell off a party to land in the cutter. Some of the Dons may swim ashore, and I can see a crowd of those sneakin' Cubans there. Just pitch into them if there's trouble."

"Aye, aye, sir," was the hearty response. "You boys from the for'ard gun 'll come with me."

"I'd like to be one of the party, too, sir," said Hal, stepping forward.

"And I also," Gerald chimed in.

"What! you two wounded troopers? What would be the use?"

"Wounded! I'd forgotten all about it," cried Hal.

"So you had, and I believe you," the officer answered. "You've both been working with our boys like bricks. You can take it that you are to come."

Highly delighted at the prospect, Hal and Gerald quickly provided themselves with cutlasses. Meanwhile, the Gloucester had been steaming at half speed towards the unfortunate Maria Teresa. Already the Spaniard was close in shore, but the gunboat drew very little water. Steaming alongside the blazing war vessel, she lowered a boat and sent a party aboard, while another went ashore. On the beach a number of ragged Cubans were standing, and as the exhausted Spanish sailors swam to the land, they fired at them or threw them back into the waves. Dashing through the surf, the American sailors swept the insurgents on one side.

"Back, yer black-skinned murderers!" cried one of the men, rushing at a Cuban who was in the very act of dashing a poor Spaniard's brains out. Then his fist shot out in truly British fashion, and next moment the native went crashing to the ground. "Thur; lie still, yer sweep," he exclaimed, standing over the man. "If yer just so much as lift yer skinny finger, I'll smash you."

He looked it, too, every bit of it, and the Cuban cowered, not even daring to move.

"Some of you lads just look to these blackguards," cried the officer. "If they try any of their games, cut them to the chin with your cutlasses. The others can bear a hand with these poor fellows."

But there was little fear that the Cubans would attempt more violence, for when blows were threatened all their courage oozed through their fingers. They drew back from the beach and sat down, glowering at the men who had come to the island to bring them freedom. As for the Spanish sailors, they were taken on board the Gloucester, Cervera and his son being amongst the number. As the former stepped on board, Commander Wainwright advanced with outstretched hand.

"I congratulate you, sir," he said heartily, "on having made as gallant a fight as was ever witnessed on the sea."

Meanwhile, the work of rescue from the Maria Teresa went on. Flaring from end to end, and with deck and side plates white hot from the furnace raging within her, she slowly drifted nearer the coast, her guns exploding as the flames reached them, and her ammunition bursting with deafening reports. But the undaunted Americans stuck to her, and would not quit till every Spanish sailor needing help was over the side. A quarter of an hour later the Almirante Oquendo, which had also taken fire and was sorely battered by shells, ran ashore a little farther up the coast.

"There are more to rescue there, boys," cried the commander of the Gloucester; and at once the gunboat steamed towards the burning wreck. Then again the same gallant and successful attempt at rescue was made; but barely in time, for suddenly the flames reached the magazine, and the Almirante Oquendo blew up with a deafening roar.

Quick to follow her fate, the Viscaya also drove ashore, and became a total wreck. The Cristobal Colon was the last of Cervera's fleet, and by now she, too, was in sorry plight. Escape, which had seemed possible to her, was now out of the question, for the fast ships, the Texas and the New York, were rapidly overhauling her. Shells began to hurtle above her decks and crash through her plates; and, finally, seeing the hopelessness of the struggle, her commander struck his flag. But the Cristobal Colon was no prize for America, for already she showed a list, and scarcely had all the prisoners been removed when she filled and sank, this being due, it is asserted, to the action of one of her crew, who opened the sea-cocks.

One fine scene there was as this magnific

ent vessel surrendered, and it deserves to be recorded. The commander of the Texas stood on his bridge, and silenced the cheers of his men. Then, lifting his hat reverently from his head, he called upon each and everyone to give thanks to God for this victory, and for his own safety through the fight.

Hal and Gerald did yeoman service on this memorable day, and it was not till every Spanish sailor who could be rescued was aboard the Gloucester that they thought of themselves. Then, indeed, they discovered that they were worn out, and that their wounds were unusually painful. But a long sleep did all that was necessary, and fresh air being added to it, they soon began to mend. A week later they were once more with their comrades, the Rough Riders.

"Back again, and seen the last of Cervera's fleet," said Harman, in tones which showed that he was not exactly pleased. "I never did drop upon such pards as you. Talk about fire-eaters! Why, I believe this feller, Marchant, has smelt Spanish powder ever since the war started. You're meant for something bad, that's all I can surmise. A chap that goes all through this war, and only gets in the way of a single pip, aer got somethin' coming."

He nodded his head significantly at the lads, and grinned.

"Wall, I'm kind er jealous, I own," he proceeded. "Here aer we, a-kicking our heels in the trenches, and you chaps enjoyin' yourselves. And the grub! My! I've had my teeth through some mighty queer stuff, but some of the salt pork doled out ter us 'd make a nigger squint! It aer that tough that the only comfort aer ter work it into sausages. But it aint going to last for long, for this here row has got the heart knocked out of it. There's been a palaver, and now there's an armistice, while the bosses discuss terms. Santiago aer done fur, and if you take it true from me, so aer the war. The Dons aer fairly pulled ter pieces, and aer durned sorry fur theirselves."

That this was the case was self-evident, and the capitulation of Santiago came as no surprise. On Saturday, the 16th of July, the deed of surrender was signed, and, led by General Shatter and his staff, the American troops took possession of the town, which was filled with starving soldiers and civilians.

Courteous and truly honorable were the Spanish officers, and, looking at their pallid faces and wan cheeks, the boys from the States realized that these were foes indeed, and men of whom any army could be proud, and whom any nation might hold in high respect.

That same day Hal and Gerald heard news which upset them considerably, for, just as evening was drawing in, Jake, the faithful negro who had previously warned them, came into the camp, and fell exhausted at their feet.

"Quick, boss!" he whispered. "Dat bad man come again. De missie and de master fighting for deir lives."

"Where? At Eldorado?" cried Hal, his heart palpitating with fear at the ominous words. "Here, some water, Gerald. Pour some down the poor fellow's throat. That will pull him round, and help him to get his wind again."

Gerald swung his bottle to the front, and rapidly unscrewed the cork. Then he poured some of the contents down Jake's throat.

"Ise better now," said the negro, in stronger tones. "But don't wait, boss. Jake look to himself. Ride quick for de hacienda, for dat bad man come dere two, t'ree hour ago, and rush at it wid his men."

"Then there must be no delay," cried Hal, rising suddenly to his feet with a stern look upon his face. "Two or three hours ago! That time has passed since José and his ruffians attacked Eldorado! Quick! There is not a moment to be lost, and every second is of consequence. Here, Gerald, you see to Jake's wants, and get the poor beggar on his pins again, while I go across to our friend the staff officer and ask him to do something for us."

He turned on his heel at once, and hurried towards a stone-built house, above which floated the directing flag, and above that again the star-spangled banner. A moment later he was face to face with one of the regulars who was stationed outside, and on mentioning his business, was immediately ushered into an office where, seated at a table, was the staff officer who had befriended him before.

"Well," said the latter pleasantly, "had your fill of it already, and come to cry off now that the fun's gone down?"

"No, not that, sir," Hal answered promptly, and in a voice which was somewhat agitated in spite of himself. "You've been so kind before, that I have come to ask another favor. The truth is that I am in serious trouble. Will you-can you help me, sir?"

The officer, who was arranging some papers on the table, swung round and looked at him curiously.

"Phew! trouble!" he exclaimed, giving vent to a shrill whistle. "It's bad, I reckon, for the lad who slips ashore on the Merrimac, and risks his skin at the game, is not the one to be easily put out. What is its nature?"

Hal was not the lad to talk, especially when deeds were wanted and time was of the utmost importance, so on this occasion he contrived to explain the situation in a few short sentences.

"I am to understand, then, Mr.-er-I don't remember your name-that you've friends close at hand, who are bein' worried by a scoundrel," said the officer. "And since you've mentioned it so particularly, I take it that the girl has got something to do with the flurry into which you've worked yourself. Now, what is in the wind? What are you asking for?"

"Give me thirty mounted men at once," Hal blurted out. "I promise to return with them as soon as possible."

"With what's left, you mean! Thirty mounted men! Well, I don't know that I couldn't oblige you."

He looked out of the window, and cogitated deeply for a few moments.

"Yes," he exclaimed, as if he had suddenly made up his mind. "Look here; take this order and go quickly."

He hastily jotted down a few words to the officer commanding one of the very few troops of cavalry whose horses had disembarked on Cuban soil, and, having sealed it, handed it to Hal.

"There, go! Get away as quickly as you can," he cried, "and the very best of luck, for you deserve it."

Waiting only to blurt out his thanks, Hal tore away, and soon presented his message. Half an hour later a small company of horse cantered out of camp, and took the road to Eldorado. In front and leading them rode a sergeant, sitting his horse with the grace and easy swing of a practiced cowboy, and on either side of him were Hal and Gerald. Two hours later they were within a mile of the hacienda, and called a halt for a rest.

"There aint no firing now," said the sergeant, going into a clearing to listen. "No, there aint so much as a sound, so you can take it that they aer alive and kicking. If these critturs we aer after had rushed the show, there'd be sparks flying into the darkness by now, I guess, and they'd be cooking their dinners over the flames. You can put it down that things has quieted down for the night; but the row'll fizzle up again in the mornin'."

"Then do you suggest that we shall remain here?" asked Hal, who was impatient to get on, and full of forebodings for the safety of his friends. "Supposing that brute attacks during the early hours, he'd--"

"That aer jist about his game," the American answered coolly, "and it'll be for us to put a stopper on it. Say, you, sir, take it easy, and have a blower here for half an hour or more. Then we'll walk on, and when we're pretty close, we'll leave the horses, and skirmish up among the trees. Bet yer bottom dollar we'll soon see how the worry lies."

Accordingly, after resting themselves and their horses, the troop set forward again, dismounting and leaving the animals in charge of one of the men when some three hundred yards from the hacienda. Then Hal and the sergeant crept to the edge of the clearing.

"There's a fire burnin' away yonder," said the latter, pointing across to the opposite side. "Reckon them skunks aer campin'."

"There are some stone buildings on that side of the clearing," Hal explained. "I expect José and his gang have taken shelter in them."

"That's the ticket, and they're as safe behind the walls as it aer possible ter be. But we'll turn 'em out, see if we don't. Say, will yer lead some of the boys over yonder, so as ter cut in behind them critters? If so, you'd better move off at once. When the light gets brighter, keep yer eyes wide open, and let 'em have it full blaze. Mind yer fire to the right, or else it'll be a case with us."

Hal readily agreed, and hurriedly returned to the troopers. Then he and Gerald, accompanied by ten men, crept round the edge of the clearing to the farther side, and sat down to wait. At dawn some sharp reports rang out from the stone buildings, and answering flashes could be seen spurting from the sand-bag fort on the roof of the hacienda.

And now Hal's work began. Creeping through the plantations, he at length reached a spot from which it was possible to see the men who were firing at Eldorado. There were thirty or more, led by a man dressed in draggled white, whom he easily recognized as José d'Arousta.

"We'll give them a volley," he said, turning to his comrades. "Then we'll get at them full tilt. Fix bayonets, boys!"

Not a word was said in answer, but there was the ominous click of steel against steel. A moment or two later a volley was fired into the midst of the Spanish guerrillas.

"At them, boys!" cried Hal, springing to his feet. "Charge!"

At his shout the troopers dashed forward, and the greater part of the enemy at once bolted. Some, however, were too astonished to move, and fell at the point of the bayonet. As for José d'Arousta, he died as he had lived, a hard and cruel man, but one gifted with extraordinary tenacity and courage. Dodging a bayonet thrust with the rapidity of lightning, he sprang back a pace or two, and, drawing a revolver, fired point-blank at the trooper who was charging by Gerald's side.

"Take that, yer durned son of a Don!" cried the man, thrusting fiercely at him again. "Ha! tit for tat, my sonnie!"

The bayonet caught José full on the chest, and, thrusting right through him, pinned him to the wall. A deathly pallor at once spread over his face, his mouth gaped, and the revolver almost slipped from his nerveless fingers. But the manhood in him forced itself to the surface, and he lifted his head to glare at his enemies. Then an oath escaped his lips as his glazing eyes fell upon Hal, and with a last effort he lifted the weapon and fired.

* * *

Hal took no part in the further stages of the war. Indeed, there was little else to happen, for the fall of Santiago had been the beginning of the end. The American fleet being freed by the destruction of Cervera's fleet, the Government at Washington threatened to send some battleships to bombard the coast towns of Spain, and in the meanwhile dispatched an expedition to Puerto Rico. Menaced by a revolution at home, the Madrid Government finally gave way, and, on the 12th of August, peace was patched up between Spain and America, the former relinquishing her possessions in the Caribbean Sea.

It came just in time to stop the campaign in Puerto Rico, where some brisk engagements had taken place; but the news arrived too late, alas! to save the many poor lads who had come from the States to fight for their country, and who lay dying of fever near Santiago.

Of the Philippines there is little to tell. Manila was captured on the 13th of August, and with it went Spanish rule. But not so the islands, for, led by a native called Aguinaldo, the inhabitants, who had previously rebelled against their old masters, now objected to the new, and chose to fight for their freedom. Thus for many a long day the Philippines remained in insurrection.

And now to close this story. Struck in the ribs by José d'Arousta's bullet, it was weeks before Hal was up and about; and he undoubtedly owed his recovery to Dora's devoted nursing. No wonder that when at last he tottered on to the veranda, he turned to her with a flush of pride, and drew her arm beneath his own, saying to Mr. Brindle:

"Dora has promised to be my wife some day, and to that I know you will agree, for you have practically told me so. Congratulate me, for I am a lucky young fellow. I left England friendless, I came to this beautiful island as a stranger, and I have won the flower of the hacienda."

"You have, my lad!" exclaimed Mr. Brindle, advancing with outstretched hand. "Fortune, they say, favors the brave, and yours is well deserved, for you have fought manfully Under the Star-Spangled Banner."


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