"Ensign Clark Fitch" is a pseudonym used by Upton Sinclair.
A PRISONER OF MORRO
In the Hands of the Enemy
ENSIGN CLARK FITCH, U. S. N.
Author of "Bound for Annapolis," "Cliff, the Naval Cadet," "The Fighting Squadron," etc.
Street & Smith, Publishers 79-89 Seventh Ave., New York City
Copyright, 1898 By Street & Smith
A Prisoner of Morro
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. SIGHTING A PRIZE. 5 II. A LONG CHASE. 10 III. AN OLD ENEMY. 19 IV. IN COMMAND OF THE PRIZE. 28 V. A HAIL FROM THE DARKNESS. 32 VI. REPELLING BOARDERS. 39 VII. A DESPERATE CHASE. 46 VIII. A DASH FOR THE SHORE. 51 IX. THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY. 56 X. A STARTLING DISCOVERY. 63 XI. A RUNNING FIGHT. 67 XII. THE FIRST PRISONERS OF WAR. 72 XIII. IGNACIO'S PLOTS. 78 XIV. BESSIE STUART. 85 XV. IN MORRO CASTLE. 94 XVI. IN THE DUNGEON VAULTS. 99 XVII. OUT OF THE DUNGEON. 104 XVIII. CLIF FARADAY'S SACRIFICE. 112 XIX. A FAREWELL. 120 XX. AN UNEXPECTED PERIL. 127 XXI. RECAPTURED BY THE ENEMY. 133 XXII. CUTTING A CABLE. 139 XXIII. A PERILOUS DETAIL. 146 XXIV. THE CUBAN COURIER. 152 XXV. "IN THE NAME OF HUMANITY AND THE SAILORS OF THE MAINE!" 158 XXVI. A GAME OF BLUFF. 164 XXVII. IN WHICH CLIF MEETS WITH A SURPRISE. 170 XXVIII. A STRUGGLE AGAINST ODDS. 176 XXIX. CLIF'S SECOND EXPEDITION. 182 XXX. THE BATTLE IN THE BRUSH. 187 XXXI. CAPTURED. 194 XXXII. CLIF FARADAY'S TEST. 201 XXXIII. THE MYSTERY OF THE UNEXPLODED SHELL. 208
A PRISONER OF MORRO
SIGHTING A PRIZE.
About noon of a day in May during the recent year the converted tug Uncas left Key West to join the blockading squadron off the northern coast of Cuba.
Her commander was Lieutenant Raymond, and her junior officer Naval Cadet Clifford Faraday. The regular junior officer was absent on sick leave, and Cadet Faraday had been assigned to his place in recognition of gallant conduct.
The ropes were cast off, and slowly the tug glided away from the dock and out toward the open sea.
It was not very long before the harbor of Key West was left behind, and then began the long trip to Havana. It was over a hundred miles, and that meant seven or eight hours' journey for the Uncas.
But the Uncas was a good, stout vessel, unusually swift for a tug, and she made the water fairly fly when once she got clear of the land.
Clif leaned against one of the rapid-firing guns in the bow and gazed longingly ahead; he was anxious to reach his destination.
There were wild rumors concerning Spanish fleets, Cadiz squadrons and Cape Verde squadrons and Mediterranean squadrons, which were continually being sighted or heard of nearby; and for all Clif knew the decisive battle of the war might be fought at any time.
And he felt that if it took place while he was absent he would never cease to regret it as long as he lived. The Uncas could not do much in such a battle; but she was anxious to do her share.
It was possible, also, that Morro might succeed in provoking an attack. The guns of the Havana defenses kept blazing away at anything that came near, and the American sailors were fairly boiling over with impatience to get a whack at them.
And at any time Admiral Sampson might give the word.
So Clif was restless and impatient as he stood in the bow of the swift tug and gazed southward.
It was a rather damp place of observation the cadet had chosen, for it had been blowing quite a gale that day, and the Uncas was plowing her way through a heavy sea.
The spray was flying over the decks; but who would have thought of going below at such a time as that?
It was not Clif's turn on duty. Lieutenant Raymond seemed to think that after his struggle on board the Spanish monitor the young cadet deserved a rest. But he was too eager and wide awake just then to wish to take it.
When the tug was well under way the lieutenant came out of the pilot house and joined Clif again.
"Thinking of the weather, Mr. Faraday?" inquired Lieutenant Raymond.
"No, sir," replied the cadet, "I was thinking of Ignacio. I don't know how he happened to get into my thoughts, but he did."
"Who is Ignacio?"
"He's a Spaniard I've had some trouble with," answered Clif. "You may have heard about one of his exploits."
"Which one is that?"
"He made an attempt to assassinate Rear Admiral Sampson."
"Oh, yes, I heard about that," said the officer. "The admiral told me about it himself. I believe you were the person who interfered."
"I had the good luck to be standing near," said Clif, modestly. "And of course, I sprang between them."
"And the spy stabbed you?"
"Yes. In the shoulder, but he did not hurt me very much."
"He must be a desperate man."
"He is. That stabbing business seems to be a favorite trick of his. I hope I shan't have to face him again."
Whether Ignacio was a Spaniard or a traitor Cuban, no one could say. Clif had first met him trying to lead astray an American officer who had been sent with dispatches for Gomez.
And Clif had foiled the plot, and had been Ignacio's deadly enemy ever since. Clif had been keeping a careful watch for him. He knew that the vindictive fellow would follow his every move; Ignacio was acting as a spy for the Spaniards, and so must have found it easy to keep track of the cadet's whereabouts. But so far Clif had not met him.
"We are likely to have a wild night of it," said Lieutenant Raymond. "The clouds seem to get darker every minute."
"It'll be a night for the blockade-runners," was Clif's answer. "We may have some excitement."
"We'll have it anyway," said the other. "I don't know of anything I less rather do than weather a storm while in among the vessels of the fleet. It will be necessary to stay on deck every instant of the time keeping watch for our very lives."
"I know how it is," the cadet added. "I was on the Porter dining one such night. And we captured a prize coming out of Havana after almost running her down in the darkness."
"I heard about it," said Lieutenant Raymond. "You may repeat the performance to-night if you have a chance. We aren't likely to meet with anything till we get there."
As the lieutenant said that he turned and gazed ahead; the broad sea stretched out on every side of them, without a sign of smoke or sail to vary the monotony of its tossing waves.
"But it always lends zest to a trip like this," the officer added, "to know that it's possible you may run across a stray Spaniard at any moment. It pays to keep one's eyes open."
"And then you have the pleasure of chasing two or three and finding they're some other nation's ships," said Clif, with a laugh.
"That's about all we've done so far," said the lieutenant. "But we're still hoping perhaps you'll bring us good luck."
"I'll do my best," the cadet declared with a smile.
"Better get ready for it by resting a bit. Your dinner's ready below."
Clif took the hint and went below. The boat was pitching so violently that he found eating a very difficult operation, and it was generally so unpleasant in the little cabin that he was glad to go on deck again.
And then later in the afternoon, at four o'clock, it came time for him to go on duty. After that he had to remain outside whether he wanted to or not.
The gale grew considerably stronger, and as the darkness came on it got much chillier, but Clif still paced up and down the deck with the glass in his hand watching for a sign of a passing vessel, or of the approaching Cuban coast.
He was left almost alone on deck as the weather got rougher; for the crew made themselves comfortable below, knowing what hard work lay before them through the stormy night.
It was not the custom on the vessel to keep the whole watch on duty except at night; and Clif had only the two sailors at the wheel and the lookout in the bow for company.
But if he felt any jealousy of those who were below out of the cold, he had the grim satisfaction of being able to disturb their comfort before very long.
It was about half past four in the afternoon, and suddenly the lookout turned and called to Clif.
The eager cadet knew what it meant. He seized the glass and hurried forward.
He followed the direction of the man's finger.
"I think I see smoke, sir," was what the sailor said.
And Clif took a long look and then turned, his face betraying his excitement.
An instant later his voice rang through the ship.
"Steamer ahoy—off the starboard bow!"
A LONG CHASE.
There was excitement on board of the Uncas the instant Clif's cry was heard. The sailors came tumbling up on deck, Lieutenant Raymond among the first.
He took the glass eagerly from the lad's hand and anxiously studied the sky in the direction indicated.
"It's too far west to be near Havana!" he exclaimed.
And he stepped into the pilot house to direct the vessel in a new direction. At the same time the smoke began to pour from the funnel, showing that those down in the engine-room had heard Clif's hail.
And so in a few moments the Uncas was speeding away in the direction of the stranger. And after that there was a long weary wait while the two vessels gradually drew nearer.
All that could be made out then was the long line of smoke which always indicates a distant steamer. But it took a sharp eye to make even that out.
"This will be a long chase," said the lieutenant. "If she takes it into her head to run we'll have a hard time to catch up to her before dark."
Clif glanced significantly at the bow gun.
"If we can only get within range," he thought to himself, "we won't have to wait to catch up to her."
The lieutenant was standing by the pilot house with the glass in his hand, and every once in a while he would make an attempt to catch sight of the stranger's smokestack.
"It may be one of our own warships," he said, "and if it is we don't want to waste any coal chasing her."
But such was not the case, and it was only half an hour or so before the lieutenant found it out. The Uncas rose as a high wave swept by; and the officer, who had the glass to his eye, gave an eager exclamation.
"She's got one funnel," he exclaimed, "and it's black, with a red top; and so it's not an American warship."
And after that there was nothing now to be done except wait until the two approached nearer.
It was evident from the gradual change of course the Uncas was obliged to make that the vessel she was following was headed in a southerly direction.
"That would take her toward the western end of Cuba," Clif thought to himself. "Perhaps she's sighted us and is running away."
She must have been a very shy vessel to have taken alarm at so great a distance; but from the slowness with which she came into view that seemed to be the case. And Clif paced the deck impatiently.
It was not very much longer before he went off duty again; but he did not go below. For perhaps an hour he remained on deck watching the strange vessel.
It seemed an age, but Clif had his reward. The chase loomed gradually nearer. The black and red smoke pipe came into view, and then, when the Uncas rose, the top of the black hull as well.
And suddenly the lieutenant handed the glass to Clif.
"You may see now," he said. "She is a merchant steamer, and she flies the Spanish flag."
Clif nearly dropped the glass at those startling words. The lieutenant said them as calmly as if he were telling the time of day.
"You don't seem very much excited," the cadet thought.
And yet the lieutenant's statement proved to be true. It was several minutes before Clif got a favorable view; but he kept his eyes fixed on the smoke and he finally caught a glimpse of the hull.
And sure enough there was the hated red and yellow ensign waving defiantly from the stern; it was blown off to one side by the breeze, and could be plainly seen.
Clif was fairly boiling over with excitement at that discovery.
"We've got our prize!" he chuckled. "I brought the luck after all."
Lieutenant Raymond was not nearly so little moved as he chose to pretend; he had announced his discovery in that careless way half in a spirit of fun.
The news got round among the crew, and however the officer may have felt, there was no indifference there.
The engines of the Uncas began to work even more rapidly, and cartridges were hastily brought up for the rapid-firing guns. Nobody meant to let that steamer get away.
She must have suspected her danger by that time, for the smoke grew blacker. But the crew of the Uncas knew that there were few merchant ships could beat that tug, and they rubbed their hands gleefully.
There is something very aggravating about a race like that. In a rowing race you may break your back if you choose, trying to catch the boat in front; and even in a sailing race you may do something. But when it comes to steam you can only grit your teeth and walk up and down and watch and try not to let anybody see how anxious you are.
In that way half an hour passed away, and mile after mile of the storm-tossed waters.
By that time the hull of the vessel was plainly visible on the horizon; and the Spanish flag was still waving from her stern.
Clif had been gazing every once in a while at the lieutenant with an inquiring look upon his face, but the officer had only shaken his head.
"Not yet," he said. "Wait a little."
And Clif would then take another stroll across the deck.
But at last his inquiring look brought another answer.
"Go ahead," said the lieutenant.
And the cadet made a leap at the gun.
It was already loaded, and he sighted it himself. He was no longer nervous and hurried; it was at least a minute before he rose.
And then at his signal the sailor pulled the firing trigger.
There was a flash and a loud report, and every one looked anxiously to see the effect.
Lieutenant Raymond, who had the glass, was the only one who could tell; for the sea was so wild that the slight splash could not be noticed.
The shot of course fell short, for the vessel was still out of range; but it hit right in line, and the officer nodded approvingly.
"Now we'll wait," he said. "She may give up."
But she didn't; so far as those on the Uncas could tell the shot had no effect whatever. The vessel kept straight on in her course.
"She's counting on the darkness coming," said the lieutenant.
But that was not the only reason why the Spaniard did not give up; those upon the Uncas discovered another shortly afterward.
"The Cuban coast," exclaimed the officer.
Yes, the long, faint line of the shore was at last visible just on the horizon's edge. It lay to the southward, directly ahead.
"What good will that do her?" asked Clif.
"If she finds she can't get away," answered the other, "she may make a run for one of the ports or try to get under the shelter of the batteries."
For a while after that nothing more was said, and the tug plowed its way through the tossing water. When the lieutenant spoke again it was to point to the gun.
"Try it again," he said.
And Clif did try it. The two ships were then not over three or four miles apart, and when the cadet fired again he heard the lieutenant give a pleased exclamation.
"They're within range!"
And then Clif got to work with all his might.
Had he had a calm sea he could have raked that vessel without missing a shot. He had only to experiment and get the aim just right and then leave the gun to stay in that one position while he blazed away.
But the Uncas in climbing over the waves was now up and now down, so that sometimes the shots fell short and sometimes they went high.
But every once in a while he had the satisfaction of hearing that he had landed one.
After that the chase was a lively one, for the Uncas kept blazing away merrily. The people on board that fleeing vessel must have had a very large time of it that afternoon.
It was just what Clif Faraday liked; he was beginning to be quite an expert in target practice, and he was willing to experiment with that ship just as long as the ammunition held out.
But his opportunity did not last very long, for the land in front was neared very rapidly, and after that there was less fun and more work.
The stranger headed round gradually to the west. She evidently had no idea of being driven toward Havana.
The Uncas swerved more sharply, in order to head her off. Lieutenant Raymond was in the pilot house, and Clif soon saw by the way he managed things that he was an expert in all the tricks of dodging.
And those who were handling the merchant ship saw it, too; they would have been soon headed off. So they turned in another direction quite sharply, making straight in toward shore again.
Under ordinary circumstances with the short range that he had by that time, Clif could have riddled the vessel in short order; but aiming in that sea was so far a matter of luck that comparatively little damage could be done.
No one knew what the enemy's last move could mean.
"But we can go in any water that's deep enough for them," thought Clif, grimly, as he blazed away.
And so thought the lieutenant, too, for he was soon racing in. For perhaps ten minutes pursuer and pursued kept straight on, the firing never ceasing for a moment.
"Perhaps she may run on shore on purpose," said the lieutenant, coming out of the pilot house for a moment.
"On purpose?" echoed Clif.
"Yes; so that we can't get the cargo."
"But she'll be beaten to pieces on the rocks," Clif objected.
"They may chance it anyhow; you see they aren't more than a mile or two from the shore now, and they're running in still."
"If that's the trick they try," Clif thought to himself, "we can stay out and pepper her to our heart's content—and help the waves to wreck her."
But the Spaniard had a far better plan than that, as her pursuers learned some time later.
Clif studied the coast in front of them, as well as he could see without a glass; there was simply a long line of sandy shore without a bay or an inlet of any kind. And there were no towns or batteries visible.
"I don't see what she can be hoping for there," he muttered.
But he had no time to speculate in the matter, for it was his business to keep firing. By that time the range was short and he was beginning to do damage.
It took an expert to fire at the instant when the tossing ship was level, but Clif had time to practice, and he soon got the knack of it.
And then it must have been exceedingly unpleasant living on that ship. One after another the heavy six-pound shots crashed through her stern; and even at that distance it began to exhibit a ragged appearance.
The cadet expected at any moment to reach the engines or the rudder of the fleeing ship, and so render her helpless. But probably her cargo served to protect the former, and the rudder was very hard to hit.
"She must have something important in view to stand all this," Clif thought to himself. "But I can't see what it is."
The chase at that time was a very exciting one. The Spanish merchantman was dashing in shore at the top of his speed. And a mile or two beyond it was the Uncas tearing up the water, plunging along at her fastest pace and banging away half a dozen times a minute with her bow gun.
Lieutenant Raymond's eyes were dancing then; he had taken the wheel himself and was hard at work. And as for Clif, he was so busily engaged that he seemed to see nothing except the high stern of that runaway.
"But she's a fool," he growled to himself. "She'll be so torn to pieces she won't be worth capturing. I wish I could kill the captain."
But the captain of that vessel knew his business, as those on the Uncas found later on. He was a Spaniard, and simply gifted with Spanish cunning.
He had no idea of running his ship aground; but he knew that coast perfectly, and he used his knowledge.
When he neared the land the tug was still some distance astern. As that did not suit the Spaniard's purposes, he very calmly slowed up.
And that in spite of the fact that the tug was so close that the rapid-firing gun was hitting him every other shot!
That the vessel had slowed up, Lieutenant Raymond of course could not tell. But he wouldn't have cared anyhow, for he had made up his mind to go in there no matter what was there, torpedoes or the very Old Nick himself.
And he went; for perhaps five minutes more the Uncas dashed in at full speed, and the merchantman still never swerved.
"They're within a quarter of a mile of the shore!" gasped Clif.
He turned to his third box of cartridges with a grim smile on his face. For he knew that something must happen soon.
It did, too—very soon.
It began when the merchantman suddenly swung round to starboard.
"Aha!" chuckled the cadet. "They're as close in as they dare. And now I suppose they'll run down shore awhile."
Lieutenant Raymond was much puzzled to think why the vessel had risked going so close in that storm; but he wasted no time in speculating, but drove the wheel around with all his might.
The Uncas swerved and sped over to shut the merchantman off; at that same instant the reason of the whole thing was seen.
The Uncas was not a mile from shore, and as she turned her broadside to the land a masked battery in the sand let drive with a dozen guns at once.
The whole thing was so sudden that for a moment it quite frightened the Americans. Clif even stopped firing long enough to stare.
But the sudden alarm did not last very long; it left the men on the Uncas laughing. For they had quite forgotten the character of the Spanish gunners' aim.
A shot tore through the tug's funnel, another chipped a piece from her bow, half a dozen shells whistled over her. And that was all.
Clif turned calmly to his gun again.
"If that's the best they can do," he thought, "they're welcome."
But that was not the best.
It wasn't that the batteries were aimed better next time. They were aimed far worse in their eager haste. They did not even touch the Uncas.
But an instant later something happened that showed that the captain of the Spanish merchantman had one more string to his bow.
He not only knew the location of the batteries, but he knew the location of the sand bars. While his own vessel sped on in safety, on board the Uncas there suddenly came a grinding thud, and an instant later the tug stopped short, so short it almost sent Clif flying over the top of the gun he was working.
And at the same time a shout was heard from Lieutenant Raymond, one that made the sailors' hearts leap up into their throats: "We're aground! We're aground!"
And in front of a Spanish battery!
AN OLD ENEMY.
It would be hard to imagine a vessel in a much greater predicament than the Uncas was at that moment. Everything was in confusion in an instant.
That is everything except one thing. Lieutenant Raymond was too busy to notice the coolness of one person on board; but he remembered it afterward, and with satisfaction.
It was Clif Faraday; he picked himself up from the deck where he had been flung and took one glance about him. Then he turned to the guns.
Whatever the position of the tug his duty just then remained the same. He could not free her, and so he did not waste any time rushing about. There was that Spanish merchantman calmly walking off to safety.
And there was a gleam of vengeance in the cadet's eye as he went to the gun again.
Those on board of the fleeing vessel had seen the success of their clever plan and they gave a wild cheer. It was answered from the shore batteries.
The steamer turned at once and headed out to sea; that put her broadside to the Uncas, and instantly the six-pounder blazed away.
That was the time to do the work, too. The vessel was quite near, and a fair mark. The Uncas was now steady, too, Clif thought grimly to himself.
One of the sailors saw what he was doing, and sprang to aid him. They banged away as fast as they could load.
At the same time the Spanish batteries opened. They had a fair mark, likewise, and plenty of time to aim. It was a race to see who could smash up their prey the quickest.
Clif would certainly have disabled the fleeing vessel if it had not been for an unfortunate accident. What the accident was may be told in a few words. It spoiled his chance.
He turned away to get more cartridges. And at that instant a shell struck the six-pounder gun.
It was a miracle that Clif was not hit; his uniform was torn in three places and his cap knocked off. The sailor next to him got a nasty wound in the arm, made by a flying fragment.
And that of course made the merchantman safe—she steamed off in triumph.
It was bad for the tug, too, for it showed the batteries were getting the range.
The plight of the Uncas was a desperate one. She was being tossed about by a raging sea and cut up by the fire from the guns. Whether she had struck on rocks or sand or mud no one had any means of telling.
But her engines were reversed the instant the accident occurred. And a hasty examination of the hold showed that whatever the danger was there was no leak.
But that seemed cold comfort, for at the rate the heavy batteries were blazing away there was likely to be a number of leaks in a very short while. And even a steel tug will not hold together long with a sea pounding over her like this one was.
Yet as it actually happened, that sea was the only thing that got the vessel out of her unfortunate predicament.
They were a great deal luckier than they would have dared to hope to be. For when they realized they were aground there was not a man on board who did not think his last hour was at hand.
But as it actually happened, the sand bar upon which the tug had driven lay some distance beneath the surface. And it had caught the vessel by the keel.
The engines throbbed wildly, doing their noblest to pull the vessel off; and then one after another came the great waves, tossing her this way and that, wrenching and twisting, lifting and lifting again, while every one on deck clung for his life.
There was a minute or two of agonizing suspense, while the shore batteries kept up a galling fire and the merchantman steamed out to sea, proud of her triumph.
And then suddenly came a wild cheer from the imperiled Americans. Then men fairly shrieked in a transport of delight.
"She's moving! She's started! She's safe!"
And the men fairly hugged each other for joy. Slowly, then faster, then faster still, and finally at full speed backward. The gallant tug had torn herself loose from the grip of the sand—and was free!
The baffled Spanish batteries redoubled their fire at that. One could almost imagine the gunners grinding their teeth with rage as they saw their prey escaping.
But grinding their teeth did not seem to sharpen their eyes. Their aim was as bad as ever, and the Uncas seemed like the proverbial man in the rainstorm who keeps dry by "dodging the drops."
The confusion on board of the "escaped" vessel may be imagined. How that triumphant captain must have sworn Spanish oaths.
It was a ticklish task that Lieutenant Raymond had before him then. He knew there were sand bars about. But he did not know where they were. And the task was to avoid them.
He did it by creeping along very slowly, in absolute indifference to the galling fire from the shore guns. He knew that there must be a channel, for he and the Spaniard had come in by it.
He had only a vague idea where it was. But the Uncas stopped and then crept slowly forward, heading north.
And after five minutes of torment they knew that they were safe. They were far enough from shore to start up again and get away from those Spanish guns. The gallant tug was quite battered by that time, but nobody cared for that in the wild rejoicing that prevailed.
The vessel swung around to port.
"And now for that prize!" muttered the lieutenant.
And he went for her, too, full speed ahead. He was mad now.
The vessel had gotten a start of about two miles. She had apparently exhausted her resources in the neighborhood of Cuba, for she was heading north, out to sea again.
"And so it's only a question of time," chuckled Clif. "We've got her!"
And so they had. The Spaniards must have realized it, too.
"Mr. Faraday," said the lieutenant, "try a shot from the starboard gun."
The shot was fired; and it did the work.
The merchantman had evidently had enough, and saw that there was no further hope.
For in full view of the shore batteries she swung round and came slowly to a halt, a signal that she surrendered. It made the Americans give another cheer, and it must have made the Spaniards on shore fairly yell.
For they began banging away, even at that distance, though they couldn't come anywhere near the tug.
As for the Americans, they sighed with relief. They had worked hard for that victory. And they felt that they had earned it. The race was over then, and they were happy.
Clif was so wearied by his heroic labor at that gun (he must have lifted and rammed some two hundred six-pounder cartridges) that he sat down on the wreck of the machine to wait until the two vessels drew near.
And the lieutenant gave up the wheel to one of the men and came out to look his capture over at leisure.
She was a fairly large vessel and seemed to have a big carrying capacity. What she was loaded with no one could guess, but at any rate she was a big prize for a small crew like that of the Uncas.
"I think I'll retire from business after to-day," Clif heard the old boatswain remark.
That personage had had one arm badly damaged in the struggle that had taken place in the morning with the Spanish gunboat; but he seemed to have forgotten his wounds in the general excitement.
The little tug steamed up boldly toward her big prize, which lay idly tossing on the waves. One could see her officers and crew standing on deck watching the approach.
"I'll bet they feel happy!" Clif muttered to himself.
The lieutenant loaned him the glass. Then he could see the faces of the men.
There was one of them he might have recognized had he been careful; but he did not recognize it, and so he failed to save himself some mighty unpleasant adventures indeed.
They were all typical Spanish faces, dark and sullen; but there was one there even darker and more sullen than the rest.
And the owner of that countenance had a glass in his hand and was staring at those on the tug. Though the cadet did not know it, that man was at that instant watching him.
And there was an expression of furious hate on his face as he looked.
Lieutenant Raymond expected no further trouble; but he took no chances. Men were stationed at the three remaining six-pounders, and the rest of the crew was armed.
In silence the Uncas steamed up to within a hundred yards of her prize. And then came the signal to stop engines.
It was the time for a boarding party. Clif, as junior officer, knew that that was his duty, and without a word he proceeded to get the small boat off.
It was quite a task in that heavy sea, but the eager sailors worked with a will, and though nearly swamped twice, managed to get clear of the tug.
And Clif was seated in the stern, heading for the big merchantman.
"Keep your eyes open," he heard the lieutenant shout. "They may make trouble."
And Clif nodded and the boat shot away. They wouldn't catch him napping on board that Spanish vessel—not much!
But they come perilously near it all the same.
It was a rough trip in that tossing rowboat. It seemed to sink and then fairly bound up on the next wave, its bow went down and its stern shot up. It did everything except turn over, while the spray fairly flew over it.
But the sturdy sailors worked with a will, and the distance was not very great. In a short time the little craft shot round in the lee of the Spaniard.
"A ladder there!" shouted Clif.
And in a few moments the rope ladder came tumbling down. It seemed to come with bad grace though, as if it knew its owners didn't want to send it.
The rowboat was backed near and Clif, with a sudden spring, caught the ladder and leaped clear of the waves.
Before he went up he turned to the sailors.
"Two of you follow me," he commanded.
He climbed quickly up the ladder and stepped out on the deck, gazing about him eagerly.
He saw about a dozen dark-faced Spaniards gathered together and glaring at him; one of them, wearing the uniform of the captain, stepped forward toward him.
He was a surly, ill-looking man, with a heavy dark mustache. He bowed stiffly to the cadet.
"The senor takes possession," he said, in a low voice.
Clif was so busy watching this man that he did not look around the vessel. But we must do so.
We must glance for one instant at the capstan, which was just behind where the jaunty young cadet was standing. There was an interesting person near the capstan.
Clif did not see him; and neither did the sailors, nor even the Spaniards on the vessel. For he was crouching behind the capstan, out of sight.
He was a small man, dark and swarthy. He was the same one we noticed glaring at Clif; he had recognized him, and realized in a flash that the issue between them was death—death for one or else death for the other.
For Clif knew the man, and would secure him the instant he saw him; his crimes were many—treason and attempted assassination the worst.
For the man was Ignacio!
And his dark, beady eyes were glittering with hatred as he crouched in his momentary hiding-place. He was quivering all over with rage; the muscles of his sinewy arms were clinched and tense.
And in his right hand he clutched a sharp, gleaming knife, half hidden under his coat.
His glance was fixed on the figure just in front of him; the unsuspecting cadet was not twenty yards away, his back turned to his crouching enemy.
And Ignacio bent forward to listen and wait his chance.
The cadet, the object of his hatred, was talking to the captain.
"The senor takes possession," the latter repeated again.
"The senor does, with your permission," said Clif, quietly.
"You gave us quite a run," he added, after a moment's thought.
"A Spaniard would not surrender to Yankee pigs without a fight," snarled the other.
"You had best be a bit careful," was Clif's stern response, "or you may find yourself in irons."
The Spaniard relapsed into a sullen silence.
"What ship is this?" demanded the cadet.
"Indeed! And bound where?"
Clif gave a low whistle.
"We caught you about in time," he said, with a smile. "You were nearly there. But I suppose the story is made up for the occasion. What is your cargo?"
The captain went over quite a list of articles; the sailors who were with Clif chuckled with delight as they heard him.
"We get a share in all this," Clif heard one of them whisper under his breath.
Clif smiled; and as soon as the captain finished he raised his arm and pointed to the stern of the vessel.
"You and your men will go aft," he commanded, "for the present; I will see you shortly."
The Spaniard was on the point of obeying; he had half turned, when suddenly with a single bound the treacherous Ignacio sprang forward.
His keen knife glanced in the air as he raised it in his outstretched arm and leaped upon the unsuspecting cadet.
Ignacio was clever at that sort of thing. He had tried it before; his spring had been silent as a cat's. Neither the sailors nor the officer heard him. And the blow might have fallen; Clif's only warning of his deadly peril.
But unfortunately for the desperate assassin, he had failed to let the captain of that vessel know what he meant to do. And the captain, as he saw him leap, realized in a flash that would mean an instant hanging for him.
And a look of horror swept over his face; Clif saw it and whirled about.
He was just in time to find himself face to face with his deadliest enemy; and the knife was hissing through the air.
IN COMMAND OF THE PRIZE.
It was a moment of horrible peril. Clif's blood fairly froze. But quick as a flash his arm shot up.
And he caught the descending wrist; for an instant the two glared into each other's eyes, straining and twisting. And then the two sailors of the Uncas leaped forward and seized the baffled Spaniard.
And almost in the twinkling of an eye-lid, Clif Faraday was saved. He could hardly realize what had happened, and he staggered back against the railing of the vessel and gasped for breath.
But that was only for a moment, too; and then the blood surged back to his cheeks and the cadet was himself once more.
He stepped forward, a calm smile playing about his mouth.
"Bind that man," he said to the sailors.
The two men were grasping the sinewy Cuban and holding him so tight that he could not move. They almost crushed his wrists, and he dropped the knife with a hoarse cry of pain.
And Clif picked it up and glanced at it for a moment, then flung it far out into the sea.
After that he turned to Ignacio.
"You have met me once more, my friend," he said, "and this time you will not get away."
And that was all the conversation he had with him. Glancing about the deck he picked up a piece of rope and stepped toward the prisoner.
He did not strike the fellow, as the Spaniards seemed to think he would. But the sailors flung him to the deck and Clif carefully bound his feet together. Then, while he fairly fumed with rage and hatred, his hands were made fast and he was left lying there, shrieking curses in his native Spanish.
Clif turned to the captain of the vessel; the man was frightened nearly to death, and began protesting volubly.
"I did not know it, senor!" he cried. "Indeed, I did not know it! Santa Maria! I——"
"I don't suppose you did," said Clif, calmly. "You did not act like it. But you will have to suffer for it."
"Suffer for it! Madre di dios, no, senor! What does the senor mean? Surely he will not hang me for——"
"The senor will not hang you," said Clif, unable to help smiling at the blustering fellow's terror.
"Then what will the senor do?"
"He will tie you like Ignacio."
The man was evidently relieved, but he protested volubly. He did not want to be tied.
"Is it customary?" he cried.
"No," said Clif; "neither is it customary to try to assassinate an officer. After that I think common prudence requires it."
"But," cried the man, angrily. "I will not submit! Por dios, I will not——"
"You will either submit or be made to," said Clif, "or else sink to the bottom."
And so the man had to give up. Those two delighted tars went the rounds and tied every single man on that vessel hand and foot. And they tied them tight, too, occasionally giving them a dig in the ribs for good measure.
And when they came to search them Clif was glad he had done as he did, for quite a respectable heap of knives and revolvers were removed from the clothes of those angry Spaniards.
But it did not take long to tie them up, and then Clif felt safe. He took a few extra hitches in the treacherous Ignacio, who was by far the most valuable prize of them all.
"Admiral Sampson will be glad to get you," the cadet thought to himself.
And then he turned to examine the captured vessel.
His sword in his hand, he went down the forward companionway, where he met a group of frightened firemen and stokers huddled below. They seemed to think the Yankee pigs were going to murder them on the spot.
But Clif had another use for them. Being able to speak Spanish, he found it easy to reassure them in a few words, and sent them down to their work again.
Then he descended into the hold; he was worried lest the continuous firing he had directed upon the vessel had made her unseaworthy. But apparently the holes were all well above the water line, for there did not seem to be any leak.
And that was all there was to be done. Clif knew that he had the task before him of piloting that vessel into Key West; he was not willing to let that ugly-looking Spanish captain have anything to do with the matter.
Clif had fancied he would rather enjoy that duty but under the circumstances of the present case he was not so much pleased.
For the darkness was gathering then and the cadet knew that he had a long hard night before him; it would be necessary for him to remain on the vessel's bridge all through the stormy trip.
And, moreover, it would take him away from Havana, the place of all places he was then anxious to reach.
But the duty had to be faced, and so Clif sent one of the sailors back to the Uncas to report the state of affairs and ask for a prize crew. It seemed scarcely orthodox to send the small boat away without an officer to command it, but that, too, was inevitable.
The boat arrived safely, however, and returned with three more men, all the little tug dared spare. Lieutenant Raymond sent word to report at Key West with the prize, but to steam slowly so as not to come anywhere near the shore before daylight.
Lieutenant Raymond was evidently a little worried about intrusting that big vessel to an inexperienced officer like Clif, and Clif was not so very cock sure himself. No one knew just where they were, and in the storm and darkness reaching Key West harbor would be task enough for an old hand.
The cadet realized the enormous responsibility thus thrown upon him, and he made up his mind that eternal vigilance should be the watchword.
"If staying awake all night'll do any good," he muttered, "I'll do it."
And then the small boat dashed away to the Uncas again, and Clif was left alone. He stepped into the pilot house of the steamer and signaled for half speed ahead.
The vessel began to glide slowly forward again, heading north; the tug steamed away in the direction of Havana.
A HAIL FROM THE DARKNESS.
The four sailors who were with Clif fully realized the task which was before them.
It was then about dusk, and the night was coming on rapidly. Two of the men were stationed as lookouts, and the other two took the wheel.
Clif set to work to try to calculate as best he could how far and in what direction he was from Key West; he wished to take no chances of running ashore or getting lost.
Those, and the possibility of collision, seemed the only dangers that had to be guarded against; the possibility of meeting a Spanish vessel was not considered, for the chance seemed very remote.
The two lookouts were both stationed in the bow. That fact and the other just mentioned sufficed to account for the fact that the real danger that threatened the crew of the merchantman was not thought of or guarded against in the least.
For Clif had no way of knowing that any trouble was to come from behind him; but coming it was, and in a hurry.
Within the shelter of a narrow inlet just to one side of the batteries that had made so much trouble for the Uncas had lain hidden and unsuspected an object that was destined to play an important part in the rest of the present story.
It was a Spanish gunboat, of much the same kind as the Uncas, only smaller. Hidden by the land, her officers had eagerly watched the struggle we have just seen.
The Spanish vessel had not ventured out to take part, for one important reason; she had not steam up. But she would probably not have done so anyhow, for the Uncas was the stronger of the two.
And so venturing out would have been little better than suicide. The Spanish captain had a plan that put that one far in the shade.
The Uncas was still visible down the shore, and the merchantman had hardly gotten well started out to sea before great volumes of black smoke began to pour from the furnaces of the Spaniard.
Her men worked like fiends; sailors pitched in to help the firemen handle coal, while the shores of the dark little inlet flared brightly with the gleam of the furnaces.
Meanwhile the officers with their glasses were feverishly watching the distant steamer, now hull down to the north, and almost invisible in the darkness.
It was about half an hour later, perhaps even less, that that Spanish gunboat weighed her anchor and stole silently out to the open sea.
She breasted the fierce waves at the entrance to the inlet boldly. A minute later she was plowing her way through the storming sea. It was dark then and she could see nothing; but her captain had the course to a hair's breadth.
He knew which way his prey was gone, and he knew to what port she was going. He knew, too, that she would not dare go near the harbor of Key West until daylight. And so if by any chance he missed her in the darkness he would still have another opportunity.
And those on the shore who saw the vessel glide away chuckled gleefully to themselves. It was something to look forward to, a chance to revenge themselves upon the impudent Yankees who had dared to elude the fire from their guns.
Meanwhile the Yankees, totally unsuspicious of this last move, were buffeting their way bravely ahead.
The lookouts clinging to the railing in the bow were peering anxiously ahead in the darkness, and the sailors in the pilot house were wrestling with the wheel; it was quite a task to keep that vessel headed straight, for she was going into the very teeth of the gale.
And as for Clif, he was watchfulness personified. When he was not eyeing the compass carefully he was hurrying about the vessel, now down in the fire-rooms, making sure that those Spaniards were doing as they were ordered, and again looking the prisoners over to make sure that the sly rascals had not wriggled themselves free.
"It would be a fine thing to do," he thought to himself, "if they managed to recapture the ship."
There was something quite prophetic in that thought.
It is hard to keep awake all night, but a man can do it if he has to even though he has been working like a Trojan all day.
Clif kept moving to work off the sleepiness whenever he felt it coming on.
"I'll have time enough to sleep by and by," he muttered.
He was thinking, grimly enough, of how he would be stalled in the town of Key West with his prize, waiting for a chance to get out to the fleet again.
The vessel did not attempt to make more than half speed during the trip, and that, against the storm, was very little.
But there was no need to hurry thought every one.
And so for some two hours the vessel crept on, wearily as it seemed and monotonously. The only thing to vary matters was when some extra high wave would fling itself over the bow in a shower of spray.
But that was not a welcome incident, for it made it harder for the weary sailors to keep the course straight.
The cadet paced up and down the deck; he had been doing that for perhaps the last half hour, stopping only to say a cheery word to the lookouts and once to prop up Ignacio, who was being rolled unceremoniously about the deck.
The cunning Spaniard looked so bedraggled and miserable that Clif would have felt sorry for him if he had not known what a villain he was.
"He'd stab me again if he got a chance," he mused.
For Clif had saved that fellow's life once; but it had not made the least difference in his vindictive hatred.
"I'm afraid," Clif muttered, "that Ignacio will have to suffer this time."
The Spaniard must have heard him, for he muttered an oath under his breath.
"It would be wiser if it was a prayer," said the cadet. "Ignacio, you are near the end of your rope, and you may as well prepare for your fate."
The man fairly trembled all over with rage as he glared at his enemy; such rage as his was Clif was not used to, and he watched the man with a feeling of horror.
"I don't like Spaniards!" was the abrupt exclamation, with which he turned away.
And Ignacio gritted his teeth and simply glared at him, following back and forth his every move, as a cat might.
"I may have a chance yet," he hissed, under his breath. "Carramba, if I only had him by the throat!"
But Clif paid no more attention to the Spaniard. He had other things to attend to, things to keep him busy.
It was not very long before that was especially true. For some interesting events began to happen then.
They began so suddenly that there is almost no way to introduce them. The first signs of the storm was when it broke.
In the blackness of the night nothing could be seen, and the vessel was struggling along absolutely without suspicion. And Clif, as we have said, was walking up and down engrossed in his own thoughts, almost forgetting that he was out in the open sea where a Spanish warship might chance to be lurking.
And so it was literally and actually a thunderbolt from a clear sky.
The blackness of the waters was suddenly broken by a sharp flash of light, perhaps two hundred yards off to starboard.
And an instant later came the loud report of a gun.
The consternation of the Americans it would be hard to imagine. They were simply aghast, and Clif stood fairly rooted to the deck.
His mind was in a tumult, but he strove to think what that startling interruption could mean.
"They must have fired at us!" he gasped.
And if there was any doubt of that an instant later came a second flash.
To a merchantship in war time such a signal is peremptory. It means slow up or else take the consequences.
There were two possibilities that presented themselves to the commander of this particular merchantship. One was that he had met an American warship——
And the other! It was far less probable, but it was possible, and terrible. They might have fallen into the hands of the enemy.
But whatever was the case, there was nothing for Clif to do but obey the signals. He could not run and he could not fight.
"If I only knew," he thought, anxiously.
And then suddenly he learned; for a faint voice was borne over to him through the gale. It was a voice that spoke English!
"Ahoy there!" it rang.
And Clif roared back with all his might!
"Ahoy! What ship is that?"
And his heart gave a throb of joy when he heard:
"The United States cruiser Nashville. Who are you?"
"The Spanish merchantman Maria, in charge of a prize crew from the Uncas!"
Whether all that was heard in the roar of the storm Clif could not tell; but he put all the power of his lungs in it.
He knew that the story would be investigated.
And so he was quite prepared when he heard the response:
"Lay to and wait for a boarding party."
And quick as he could move Clif sprang to the pilot house, and signaled to stop, and the vessel swung round toward the stranger.
The die was cast, for good or evil. They had given up!
For perhaps five minutes there was an anxious silence upon the vessel. Every one was waiting anxiously, while the ship rolled in the trough of the sea and shook with the crashes of the waves. Her small crew were picturing in their minds what was taking place out there in the darkness, their comrades struggling to get a small boat out in that heavy sea.
And then they fancied them buffeting their way across, blinded by the spray and half swamped by the heavier waves.
"They can't be much longer," muttered Clif, impatiently.
"Ahoy there! A ladder!"
It seemed to come from right underneath the lee of the merchantman. And it was shouted in a loud, peremptory tone that was meant to be obeyed. A moment later the rope ladder was flung down. Clif peered over the side when he dropped it.
He could make out the shape of the boat tossing about below; he could even distinguish the figures of the men in the boat.
And then he made out a man climbing hastily up.
He stepped back to wait for him. He saw a blue uniform as the officer clambered up to the deck.
And then suddenly he stood erect, facing Clif.
The cadet took one glance at him and gave a gasp of horror.
It was a Spanish officer!
And he held in one hand a revolver and was aiming it straight at Clif's head.
That had been a cleverly managed stroke, and it left the young officer simply paralyzed. All he could do was to stare into the muzzle of that weapon.
He realized of course in a flash how he had been duped. And he was in a trap!
Half dazed he looked and saw a Spanish sailor in the act of lifting himself up to the deck to join his superior. And Clif had no doubt there were half a dozen others following.
There was of course nothing that Clif could do; a movement on his part would have been sheer suicide.
He thought the case was hopeless; he had let himself be caught napping.
But the cadet had forgotten that there were other Americans on that vessel besides himself. And there were no revolvers threatening the others.
The rage of the Yankee tars at what seemed to them a cowardly and sneaking way to capture the ship was too great for them to control. Prudence would have directed surrender, for the Maria had not a gun on board and the Spaniard might blow her out of the water.
But nobody thought of that; the same instant the Spanish officer presented his weapon and disclosed his real nationality, there were two sharp cracks in instant succession from the bow of the imperiled ship.
And the officer staggered back with a gasp. He dropped his weapon to the deck, reeled for an instant and then vanished over the side in the darkness.
There was a moment of horror, and then Clif heard him strike with a thud on the small boat below.
At the same time there was a bright flash just in front of Clif, and a bullet whistled past his ear.
The Spanish sailor, who had only half reached the deck, had fired at him.
By that time there was no longer any hesitation as to what course to pursue. The sailors had decided it by their fatal shots. It was resistance to the death.
And Clif whipped out his own weapons and sent the sailor tumbling backward to follow his officer.
Then he drew his sword and with two slashing strokes severed the ladder. From the yells and confusion that followed there must have been quite a number clinging to the rope.
But where they were or what their fate was nobody had any time to learn. Everything was moving like lightning on the merchantman.
Clif leaped into the pilot house and signaled full speed. There was no further need of lookouts and so the two sailors rushed down into the engine-room to see that the order was obeyed.
The big vessel started slowly forward. The cadet sprang to the wheel, his mind in a wild tumult as he strove to think what he should do.
As if there were not confusion enough at that instant there were several loud reports in quick succession, followed by deafening crashes as shots tore through the vessel.
The Spaniards had opened fire!
"But they'll have to stop to pick up that boat's crew!" gasped Clif. "We may get away!"
And that being the case every minute was precious; the vessel had swung round, but there was no time to turn—she must run as she was for a while.
And from the way the vessel trembled and shook it could be told that the irate tars down below were making things hum.
"They may burst the boilers if they can," thought Clif, grimly.
The new course they were taking was south, exactly the opposite of the way they had been going. But Clif did not care about that.
"The storm will drive us faster!" he gasped. "And every yard counts."
The Spanish gunboat (nobody on the Maria, of course, knew but what she was a big cruiser) fired only about half a dozen shots at her daring enemy; then the yells of the crew of the small boat must have attracted her attention and forced her to desist for a moment.
"And now's our chance," was the thought of the Americans.
They were making the most of it, that was certain; they were fairly flying along with the great waves.
Clif himself was at the wheel, seeing that not an inch was lost by steering wrongly.
"We'll know soon," he muttered. "Very soon, for she'll chase us."
The scene at this time was intensely dramatic; for the big ship had glided out into the darkness and those on board of her could not see their pursuer. They had no means of telling where she was, or whether they had escaped or not.
They could only keep on listening anxiously, tremblingly, counting the seconds and waiting, almost holding their breath.
They knew what the signal would be. The signal of their failure. If the Spaniard succeeded in finding them, he would open fire and soon let them know.
Clif tried to guess how long it would take them to pick up the unfortunate occupants of that small boat.
"They'll be raging mad when they do," he thought. "Gorry! they'll murder every one of us."
For they would probably call the shooting of that officer a murder; it did not trouble Clif's conscience, for he knew that a merchant vessel has the same right to resist the enemy that a warship has. It was not as if they had surrendered and then imitated the example of the treacherous Ignacio.
"I wonder how Ignacio likes this anyhow," thought Clif.
But he had no time to inquire the Spaniard's views on the struggle; Clif was too busily waiting and counting the seconds.
He did not think it would be very long before the enemy's ship would be after them again; and yet several minutes passed before any sign of the pursuit was given.
Clif began to think that possibly they had eluded their would-be captors. But his hopes were dashed, for suddenly there came the dreaded warning shot.
And it was fired from so close that, though the Americans had been listening for it, it made them start. It was evident that the enemy's vessel had come close to do the business; her first shot seemed fairly to tear the big merchantman to pieces.
And Clif shut his teeth together with a snap.
"We're in for it now," he muttered. "That settles it."
There was no longer the last hope of escape. There was no longer even any use of keeping on. There were but two things to be considered, sink or surrender.
There was a grim smile on the cadet's face as he turned away from the wheel.
"Tell the two men to come up from below," he said to one of the sailors.
And then he went out on deck, staring in the direction of the pursuing vessel. There was no difficulty in telling where she was now, for a continuous flashing of her guns kept her in view.
Clif was cool, singularly cool, as he stood in his exposed position. He was no longer anxious, for he had no longer any hope. There was nothing on board the Maria that could cope with the enemy's guns. There was only the inevitable to be faced.
The cadet soon guessed the nature of the pursuer from the way she behaved. Her guns were all low down and close together. They were about three-pounders, and rapid-firing.
"It's a gunboat like the Uncas," he muttered. "Gorry! how I wish the Uncas would come back!"
But the Uncas was then near Havana, far from any possibility of giving aid. And Clif knew it, so he wasted no time in vain regrets.
By that time the Spanish vessel had gotten the range, and her three or four guns were blazing away furiously. The gunboat was alight with the flames of the quick reports, and the sound was continuous.
"They aren't doing as well as I did," Clif said. "But still, they'll manage to do the work."
And so it seemed, for shot after shot crashed through the hull of the already battered vessel. The Spaniards were mad, evidently. There was no hail this time and proposal to surrender. But only a calm setting to work to finish that reckless ship.
The sailors came on deck and Clif, when he saw them, turned and pointed to the Spaniard.
"There she is, men," he said. "Look her over."
For a moment nobody said anything; the little group stood motionless on the deck. They were in no great danger for the firing was all directed at the hull.
Then suddenly Clif began again.
"I guess this vessel is about done for," he said. "She will be either sunk or captured. The only question is about us—what's to become of us. I leave it to you."
None of the men spoke for a moment.
"I suppose," Clif said, "that we can manage to let her know we surrender if we choose. We can scuttle the ship before we do it. But you know what we may expect; after our shooting those two men they'll probably murder us, or do things that are a thousand times worse."
Clif stopped for a moment and then he turned.
"Think, for instance," he said, "of being at the mercy of that man."
He was pointing toward Ignacio, who lay near them, glowering in his hate, and the sailors looked and understood.
"It's better to drown, sir," said one.
And the rest thought so, too, and declared it promptly.
"Very well, then," was the cadet's quiet answer, "we will stay on board. We have faced death before."
That resolution made there was little else left to be determined.
"We can sink the ship, or wait and let them sink it," the cadet said. "Or else—there's one thing more. We are headed in the right direction. We can smash her upon the rocks of the Cuban coast."
And the sailors stared at him for a moment eagerly.
"And stand a chance of getting ashore in safety!" they cried.
At which the cadet smiled.
"I'm afraid there's very little chance," he said. "But it's as good as anything else. We'll try it."
"You two go down to the engine room again, and keep things moving. And the others stay on deck and make sure those Spaniards don't try to board us again. I can handle the wheel myself."
And with that the brave cadet turned away and sprang toward the pilot house.
A DESPERATE CHASE.
That was a heroic resolution those five brave men had made. But it was inevitable, for they did not mean that either they or that valuable ship should fall into the hands of the enemy.
And apparently the enemy knew they did not mean to. For they kept battering away at the big hulk that loomed up in the darkness, running close alongside and firing viciously.
Every shot made a deafening crash as it struck home.
But the Americans did not mind it especially. When a man has made up his mind to die he is not afraid of anything.
And the men on deck paced up and down serenely, and Clif tugged at the wheel with a positively light-hearted recklessness.
It would have been a cold sort of a person whose spirit did not rise to such an occasion as that. The wild night and the furious cannonading, but above all the prospect of taking that huge ship and driving her forward at full speed until she smashed upon the rocks, was a rather inspiring one.
The reader may have heard about the man out West who drew an enormous crowd by advertising an exhibition railroad wreck, two empty trains crashing into each other at full speed. This was a similar case; it does not often happened that a man has occasion to drive a ship aground on purpose.
The resolution to which the Americans had come must have been plain to the unfortunate Spaniards who were tied up on board the Maria. Their fright was a terrible one, anyhow.
Clif glanced out at them several times; their presence was the only thing that made him hesitate to do what he had resolved.
"For they haven't done anything, poor devils," he thought to himself, "I wish I knew what to do with them."
But there was only one thing that could be done; that was to put them off in a small boat, and that would be practically murdering them.
"They'll have to stay and take chances with us," muttered Clif.
As if there were not noise enough about that time those men began to raise a terrific outcry, yelling and shrieking in terror. But nobody paid any attention to them—except that the sailors took the trouble to examine their bonds once more.
It would have been dangerous to let those desperate fellows get loose then. For the Americans had enemies enough to cope with as it was.
All this while the Spanish gunboat had been firing away with all her might and main. She would cut across the vessel's stern, and send her shots tearing through the whole length of the ship; then she would come up close alongside and pour a dozen broadsides in.
And nearly all the shots hit, too.
It was evident to those on board that the merchantman would not stand very much battering of that sort. Already one of the sailors had come up to announce that two of the firemen had been struck.
But still the Maria tore desperately onward. Nobody cared very much how much damage was done, except that they did not want the engines to be smashed until the ship had reached the shore.
As well as Clif could calculate roughly, it ought not to have taken them an hour to return to the coast, for they had the storm to aid them. That they could hold out that long under the unceasing fire he did not believe.
"But the Spaniards may use up all their ammunition," he thought to himself.
That was a possibility, for he knew that the supply in the possession of Spain was a small one.
And the actual course of events made him think that his surmise was true. The desperate chase kept up for perhaps half an hour; and then unaccountably the Spaniard's fire began to slacken.
Clif could hardly believe his ears when he heard it.
"What can it mean?" he gasped.
But a moment later his surprise was made still greater. For one of the sailors bounded into the pilot house.
"She's giving up, sir!" he cried.
"How in the world do you mean?"
"She's stopped firing, sir. And what's more, she's dropping behind."
Clif stared at the man in amazement.
And then suddenly he sprang out to the deck.
"Take the wheel a moment," he cried to the sailor.
And he himself bounded down the deck toward the stern.
He stared out over the railing, clinging to it tightly to prevent himself from being flung off his feet.
He found that what the sailor had said was literally true. The Spaniard was now firing only an occasional shot, and she was at least a hundred yards behind.
What that could mean Clif had not the faintest idea. Could it be that her engines had met with an accident? Or that she fancied the merchantman was sinking?
The cadet gazed down into the surging water below him; he could see the white track of the big steamer and knew that she was fairly flying along.
He took one more glance in the direction of the now invisible Spaniard. The firing had ceased altogether.
And like a flash the thought occurred to Clif that whatever the reason for the strange act might be, now was the time to save the merchantman.
"We can turn off to one side!" he gasped, "and lose her!"
And with a bound he started for the pilot house.
"Hard a-port!" he shouted to the man at the wheel.
But before the man had a chance to obey Clif chanced to glance out ahead, into the darkness toward which the vessel was blindly rushing.
And the cadet staggered back with a gasp.
"A light!" he cried. "A light!"
Yes, there was a dim flickering point of light directly in front of them. Where it came from Clif could not tell, but he realized the significance in an instant.
And at the same time there was another sound that broke upon his ear and confirmed the guess. It was a dull, booming roar.
The man at the wheel heard it, too.
"It's breakers, sir!" he shouted. "Breakers ahead!"
They were nearing the land!
And then the significance of the Spaniard's act became only too apparent. The men who were running her had seen the light, and they had no idea of being led to destruction by their eagerness to follow that reckless merchantman.
And so they were slowing up and keeping off the shore.
There was a faint hope in that; the Maria might be able to steal away if she were quick enough in turning.
Clif's order had been obeyed by the sailor the instant he heard it. Clif sprang in to help him, and they whirled the wheel around with all their might.
But alas! they were too late! When a steamer waits until she hears breakers in a storm like that it is all up with her, for she must be near the shore indeed.
And plunging as the Maria was, urged on by wind and waves and her own powerful engines, it was but an instant before the crisis came.
Clif had half braced himself for the shock; but when it came it was far greater than he had expected. There was a crash that was simply deafening. The huge ship plunged into the rocky shore with a force that almost doubled her up, and made her shake from stem to stern. And she stopped so abruptly that Clif was flung through the window of the pilot house.
The deed was done!
A DASH FOR THE SHORE.
Strange to say, Clif was not much excited at the terrific moment. The peril was so great that he was quite gay as he faced it. He had risen to the occasion.
He picked himself up and stepped out to the deck.
There he found a scene of confusion indescribable. Above the noise of the breakers on the shore and the waves that were flinging themselves against the exposed side of the ship rang the wild shrieks and cries of the terrified Spanish prisoners.
The vessel after she had struck had been flung around and was being turned farther over every minute. The violence of the storm that was struggling with her was quite inconceivable.
The waves were pouring over her in great masses, sweeping everything before them; and the spray was leaping so high and the flying storm clouds driving past so low that there was no telling where the surface of the sea ended and the air began.
The big ship had landed among rocks, and every wave was lifting her up and flinging her down upon them with dull, grinding crashes that could be both heard and felt.
A moment after she struck a man came dashing up the ladder to the deck; it was one of the sailors, and behind were the terrified firemen.
"She's leaking in a dozen places!" the man shouted.
He clung to railing as he spoke, and a great wave half drowned him; but he managed to salute, and Clif saw a look of wild delight on his face, one that just corresponded with his own eager mood.
"She'll split in about half a minute, I fancy," the cadet answered, "and the Spaniards are welcome to what's left. We've done our duty."
And with that he turned to the pilot house, where the rest of the men were grouped. They were gazing at him eagerly.
"Are you ready, boys?" Clif shouted.
Every one knew what he meant by "ready"—ready to make the wild attempt to land and reach the shore through all those wildly surging breakers. The very thought of it was enough to stir one's blood.
And the answer came with a vengeance.
"Ay, ay, sir!"
"Then get out one of the boats," shouted Clif.
As he saw the men struggling forward to reach the nearest rowboat he turned suddenly on his heel. He had something else to attend to for a moment.
It was an errand of mercy. Those shrieking wretches were all bound to the railing of the doomed ship, and Clif would never have forgiven himself if he had left them there. Their faces would have haunted him.
And he drew his sword and set swiftly to work.
He cut the captain loose and put a knife into his hand.
"Get to work!" he cried. "Get to work!"
Clif took the risk of trusting the man, and went on, leaving him with the weapon. The cadet believed that he would be grateful for his release.
And besides they were fellow sufferers then, threatened with the same peril.
And Clif was not mistaken. The man set hastily to work releasing his comrades, and in less time than it takes to tell it the terrified men were huddled together on the deck.
The cadet wasted no more time upon them.
"There are three boats left for you," he cried. "Save yourselves."
And with that he turned and made his way down to where his own men were struggling with one of the small boats.
There was one other thing which in the wild confusion of that moment Clif managed to remember needed to be attended to. There was Ignacio!
The treacherous Spaniard had nearly been swept off, and he was half drowned by the floods of water that poured over the deck. But his hatred of the Americans was too great for him to shout to them for aid.
What to do with that murderous villain was a problem that worried Clif. Undoubtedly the wisest thing would be to kill him, then and there; death was the fate he certainly deserved.
And Clif half drew his sword; but it was no use. He could not bring himself to do such an act. And he flung the weapon back into the scabbard.
To attempt to carry him away was equally useless; the Americans did not expect to reach the shore themselves.
"I'll leave him to his fate," Clif muttered. "The Spaniards may help him if they choose."
And with that he turned toward the sailors again; the men had by that time nearly succeeded in getting the boat away. They were working like Trojans.
Every wave that struck the ship helped to fill the boat, even before it touched the water; the spray poured down over the slanting deck upon it and the sailors had to empty it several times.
While they were wrestling thus the wind and water and rocks had been getting in their work upon the doomed vessel. Lower and lower she sank, harder and harder she pounded.
And then suddenly a great billow heaved itself with a thud against the bow and fairly hammered it around. One of the sailors gave a yell.
And sure enough, a great seam had opened amidships and the water surged in with a roar.
The vessel seemed fairly falling to pieces.
And such being the case the sailors had no time to delay. The frail boat was lowered into the seething waters; the men tumbled in and seized the oars. Clif made a wild leap and caught the stern just as one mighty wave raced by and whirled the boat away from the vessel.
And in one instant it was lost to sight and sound. What was done by the Spaniards no one could see a thing. The Americans were fighting for their own lives.
There was but one thing for them to do——
"Pull for the shore, sailors, pull for the shore."
And the great sweeping breakers to aid them. In fact they were flung in so fast that they could hardly row.
It was a thrilling struggle, that race with the giant waves. The sailors struggled with all their might, keeping the frail craft straight. And Clif, with a bucket he had thought to bring, was bailing frantically, and shouting to encourage the men.
In, in they swept, nearer, with the speed of a whirlwind, toward the shore.
"If it's rocks, Heaven help us!" Clif gasped.
It seemed an age to him, that brief struggle. Breathless and eager, he watched the great white caps breaking, smiting against the stern, struggling to turn that boat but a few inches so that they might catch it on the side and fling it over.
And meanwhile the wind and waves and oars all helping, on swept the boat—bounding over the foamy crests, sinking into the great hollows, leaping and straining, but still shooting on in the darkness.
And every second was precious, for the shore was not far away; the roar of the surf grew louder—louder almost upon them.
And then suddenly one great seething billow came rushing up behind. Clif saw it, and shouted to the men. In a second more its white crest towered over them.
It was just on the point of breaking in a giant cataract of foam; it would have buried the little boat and its occupants beneath tons of foaming water.
But it was just a second too late. The little boat's stern shot up; for a moment it was almost on end, and then it rose to the top of the wave and a moment later as the crash came and the sweep in toward shore began the frail craft was flung forward as if from a catapult.
And in it shot with speed that simply dazed the Americans; but it was toward shore—toward shore!
They had passed the breakers!
And Clif gave a gasp of delight as he felt the wild leap forward. It seemed but a second more before the rush ended.
The bow of the rowboat struck and the frail object was whirled round and flung over, its occupants being fairly hurled into the air.
When they struck the water it was to find themselves within a few feet of dry land. They staggered to a standing position to find that they were in water only up to their waists. And the great wave was tugging them out to sea again.
They struggled forward wildly, clutching at each other. A minute later, breathless, exhausted and half drowned, but wild with joy, they staggered out upon a sandy beach and sank down to gasp for breath.
"We're safe!" panted Clif. "Safe!"
Safe! And on the island of Cuba, the stronghold of their deadly enemies!
THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY.
It must have been at least five minutes before those exhausted men moved again; when at last they managed to rise to their feet it was to find themselves in the midst of absolute darkness, with the wild sea on one side of them and on the other no one knew what.
The faint point of light which they had seen had now disappeared: but they took it to mean that there were Spaniards in the neighborhood.
And they did not fail to recognize the peril in which they were. The firing had probably been heard and the wreck of the merchantman seen. If so, the Americans could not be in a much worse place.
"We may be right in front of a battery," whispered Clif.
The first thing the sailors did was to see to their revolvers and cutlasses. And after that they started silently down the shore.
"We won't try to go far," Clif said, "but we must find a hiding-place."
But in that darkness the hiding-places were themselves hidden; the best the Americans could do was to stumble down the shore for a hundred yards or so, being careful to walk where the waves would wash out their footprints.
Then they were a short distance from the wreck and felt a trifle safer.
"We may as well strike back in the country now," said the leader, "at least until we can find some bushes or something to conceal us."
That was a rather more ticklish task, and the men crouched and stole along in silence. They had no idea what they might meet.
It was fortunate for them that they were quiet. Otherwise they would have gotten into very serious trouble indeed.
They stole up the sandy beach a short ways, feeling their way along and getting further and further away from the sea. They were struggling through soft dry sand.
And suddenly Clif, who was in front, saw something loom up before him, a dark line. And he put out his hand to touch it.
He found that the sand rose gradually into a sort of drift or bank. It was high, and seemed to reach for some distance.
The sailors stopped abruptly, and Clif crept softly forward, feeling along with his hands; suddenly the men heard him mutter a startled exclamation under his breath.
"Men," he whispered, "we're in a terrible fix; I ran into a gun!"
"Yes—a big one. We've struck a Spanish battery, and we must be near some town!"
The sailors stared at him aghast; and then suddenly came a startling interruption—one that fairly made their blood grow chill.
"Who goes there?"
It was a loud, stern hail in Spanish, and it seemed to come from almost beside them!
Quick as a flash the Americans dropped, crouching close together in the darkness. They could hear the beating of each others' hearts.
There were several moments of agonizing suspense; the Spaniard who had shouted out was evidently awaiting a reply. And then suddenly he repeated his challenge.
"Who goes there?"
And a moment later came a sound of hurrying footsteps.
"What's the matter?" Clif heard a voice demand.
He was the only one in the party who understood Spanish, and knew what was said. But it was plain to the rest that it was a conversation between a sentry and an officer.
"I heard a footstep, senor capitan!" cried the man. "Quidada! Take care! It's very near."
There was a moment's pause.
"You must be mistaken," said the officer.
"I am not mistaken," repeated the man firmly. "Santa Maria, my ears do not deceive me. You said to be watchful, for you have heard firing."
To that the Americans had listened in trembling silence; but the next made them jump. "I will light this lantern," said the officer.
And the instant they heard it Clif rose silently to his feet; the men did likewise, and began to creep softly off to one side.
But careful as they were they could not help the grinding sound of their footsteps in the sand, and it caught the quick ear of the Spaniard.
"Hear it!" he cried. "Por dios, again! Somebody is stealing upon us!"
And an instant later the air was rent by a sharp crack of a rifle—the sentry had fired!
There was wild confusion at once, and the unfortunate castaways were aghast. For an instant Clif thought of charging the battery—with four men. But he realized the folly of that.
"Quick!" he cried, "let us hide. Forward!"
Lights were flashing and men shouting and running about behind the sand wall just in front of them, but the sailors were still unseen. They broke into a run and fairly flew down the shore.
They fancied the whole Spanish company was at their heels; but after they had run for some distance they found that they had not been pursued.
For the enemy were so taken by surprise at the sudden alarm that they were if possible more frightened than the Americans.
And so the men stopped for breath.
They stared at each other, as if hardly able to realize the peril into which they had so suddenly been plunged.
"I think that was the quickest adventure I ever had in my life," muttered Clif.
The suddenness of it made him laugh; they had almost walked into a Spanish fort.
But it was no laughing matter, certainly; it was a confounded piece of ill-luck.
"For they'll be watching for us now!" muttered Clif. "I'm afraid that will settle us."
"They'll follow our footsteps!" exclaimed one of the sailors.
That was so, and it was an unpleasant prospect; it was plain that if the Americans wished to find any safety they must get some distance away from that battery.
"We'll make one more effort to get back into the country," muttered Clif.
And amid silence and anxious suspense they once more started up the sloping seashore.
They crept along as it seemed by inches. But fortunately they did not run across any more "guns." When they came across an embankment it was of solid earth and marked the end of the beach.
And there were some trees and bushes there, so the Americans began to feel more comfortable. For all they knew they might in the darkness have been strolling into a town.
But they were apparently out in the open country, there seemed to be no people and no houses near. So they started boldly forward.
It was then late at night, a dark and damp and windy night; so they were not likely to find many people wandering about.
"What we want to do," Clif said, "is to get back in the country a while where we can hide until morning. Then if we can find some Cubans we'll be all right."
Clif was about tired to death. He had done far more work that day than any of those sailors. But there was no time for resting then.
He gritted his teeth and started; they took their bearings from the sea, and then went straight on, watching and listening carefully, but meeting with no trouble.
At first their walk led through what had evidently once been a cultivated country, for it was level and had but few trees upon it. At present, however, it was overgrown with weeds.
Once they almost ran into a house, which it may readily be believed gave them a start. It was creepy business, anyhow, this stumbling along through the enemy's country without being able to see ten yards in front.
But the house seemed to be empty. In fact, it could hardly be called a house any more, for it was half burned down.
The Americans thought that it was empty, for Clif had stumbled and fallen with a crash over a pile of dry sticks and rubbish. But when he rose to his feet to listen anxiously there was no movement or sign that anybody had heard him.
"It probably belonged to some of the reconcentrados," he muttered.
He was about to turn and give the word to proceed.
Then suddenly a new idea occurred to him, and he gave a pleased exclamation.
"This is lucky!" he whispered. "Men, what is the matter with hiding there?"
That was a rather startling proposition; for they could not be at all sure but some one lived there after all.
But Clif had come several miles by that time, and he was disposed to be a trifle desperate.
A person can get so tired that he will be anxious to enter even a Spanish dungeon in order to get a chance to rest.
"We will search the house," he said. "If we find anybody we'll hold them up and make them prisoners; and if we don't, we'll spend the night there."
And then without another word he started silently forward. The sailors were right behind him.
What was evidently the front of the house was the part that had been burned. Clif picked his way over the ruins and into the rear, where there was a roof still remaining.
There was a door there, half shut; one may readily believe that in pushing it open Clif was rather nervous.
But nothing occurred to startle him, and so they went forward once more. The place about him seemed deserted.
Then suddenly Clif did a startling thing.
He took a deep breath and called aloud.
And then for at least a minute or two the little party stood waiting in silence; but no answer was heard.
"I guess it's deserted," Clif said. "Scatter and search it thoroughly."
And that was quickly done. To their relief the Americans found that the place was not inhabited and that there was no one near. That once made sure it may be believed that they wasted no more time in delay.
"I don't think it will be necessary for us to keep watch," he said. "Our safety lies in our hiding."
They made their way into one of the smaller rooms of the little building, one which had a key to the door. And having secured themselves as best they could from danger of discovery, the wearied men sank down upon the floor.
A STARTLING DISCOVERY.
It may seem strange that they were able to sleep in the perilous situation they were in; but they were men who were used to holding their lives in their hands. They say that Napoleon could take a nap, during a lull in battle, while he was waiting for his reserves to be brought up.
The men were cold and damp, of course, but it was impossible for them to light a fire, even had they dared to take such a risk. But the darkness was their principal shield.
But all the cold in the world could not have kept Clif awake; he and the rest of the men were soon fast asleep, hidden away in the enemy's country, and surrounded by perils innumerable, yet resting as quietly as if they were at home.
And none of them awakened either, as the dark night wore on. The day began to break over the mountains to the eastward, and the gay sunbeams streamed into the room to find the sailors still undisturbed and unconscious.
The sun had risen and was half an hour up in the sky before any of the Americans showed signs of awakening. One of the sailors turned over and then sat up and stared about him.
It was not strange that the man wondered where he was, for a moment; he had been through so much during the previous day.
He found himself seated in a little bare apare apartment half charred by fire, and having damp straw for flooring. His companions, including the officer, were stretched out upon it.
They seemed in blissful ignorance of the fact that it was damp.
The sailor rose to his feet; he was rather stiff and sore, and somewhat hungry, but he felt that he ought to be glad to be alive.
And then he stole quickly over to the tiny window to look out; naturally enough he was a little curious to see what sort of a place it was they had hit on in the darkness.
There was light, then, plenty of it—too much in fact, so the man thought. It showed him everything.
And the everything must have included something rather startling. For the sailor acted in a most surprising way.