"No, not when I can get my breath, but their methods are so rapid and one-sided that they make me dizzy."
"The first thing to consider is some plan of escape."
"And if we escaped we wouldn't be any better off than we were in the woods. We wouldn't know where to go. However, it would be wise to make a more careful inspection of our prison house for possible future use."
Acting on this suggestion the boys made a survey of the room. It was a square apartment, with walls of grey stone. The floor was composed of smooth stone slabs. The ceiling was heavily timbered. There were two barred openings in one of the walls just above their heads. They pushed over the table, and climbing up on it, looked out. In the moonlight, they could see that the outlook was on what was apparently the jail yard, a large space enclosed by a high wall. Nothing interposed between them and the free air outside but two iron bars. They shook these with all their strength, but they were sunk firmly in the stone frame and would not budge.
"I don't think they need feel uneasy, for fear we will escape," said Harry, after they had finished their inspection.
"Nothing left but to knock down the turnkey. Must always call 'em turnkeys in a stone jail like this."
There was a sound of a key in the lock and the door swung open again. The man with the clanking keys entered, followed by two others, who promptly slipped a pair of handcuffs on the wrists of the boys, and taking each boy by the arm they led them out of the jail and back to the building into which they had first been ushered at the muzzles of the guns.
The same dignitary who had ordered their incarceration still sat at his desk, although in a more dignified attitude. At his right, sat a man who seemed to be a clerk. On the left, stood the fat officer and the four soldiers. An elderly man with grey side-whiskers stood near the desk talking with the presiding personage. When the boys entered he approached them and held out his hand.
"I am Consul Wyman. I understand you are Americans and in some sort of trouble."
Both boys grasped his hand warmly. It was a great relief to find one who spoke their tongue and who could make their situation clear to their captors. And the thought that he represented officially the Government of the United States, restored much of their waning confidence in themselves.
"Mr. Wyman," said Harry, "we certainly are glad to meet you. We are Americans and we are in trouble with these Spanish gentlemen. We do not know why yet. We did not know it was a crime, or against the laws to travel in Cuba or we should have selected some other country for our explorations."
"The trouble is that your presence in this part of the island strikes the authorities as suspicious. You have apparently passed through none of the regular ports of entry, for a careful watch is kept on all strangers here now, and travelling through a country so infested as this is with Cuban bandits——"
"Bandits?" interrupted Harry, looking Mr. Wyman straight in the eye. Captain Dynamite's teachings had taken very deep root in the heart of the American boys.
"Well," said Mr. Wyman, "they call themselves insurgents, but they are not recognized belligerents you know." Here Mr. Wyman lowered his voice almost to a whisper: "And you know we have to be very diplomatic in dealing with these Spanish gentlemen, they are so sensitive."
"Mr. Wyman," asked Harry, "are you an American or a Spaniard?"
"Oh, an American—an American always," replied the consul, proudly.
"Then it seems to me, sir, that you should not let the Spaniards select your words for you," said Harry, with some indignation.
"Ah, diplomacy, my son, diplomacy," said the consul, drawing himself up with comical dignity. "You do not understand the need for diplomacy. Why, I was selected by our President for this delicate mission, because of my large experience in matters diplomatic. But let us return to your own affairs. I see the general is getting nervous. This is the Bureau of Justice and I shall see that you have an impartial hearing."
"Bureau of Justice," sniffed Bert. "Humph, a pretty one-sided old bureau. I should say it had lost a castor or two."
"Ah, you misjudge General Serano," said Mr. Wyman. "He is an exceedingly fair-minded gentleman."
The consul stepped before the desk of the general and beckoned to the boys to follow him. He spoke in Spanish for a few minutes, and then turned to the boys again.
"The general will examine only one. He thinks that will be sufficient."
"Very well," said Harry, stepping up to the desk. "I will go the general one round."
"My young sir," said Mr. Wyman, with some concern, "let me advise you to treat the court with due deference. This gentleman will act as interpreter, as I understand you do not speak or understand the language."
A man with a heavy black mustache waxed to needle points, and who seemed to wear a perpetual smile, took a position beside Harry, and the examination began.
"What is your name?"
"American," answered Harry, "but look here, Mr. Interpreter, I wish you would ask the general what right he has to ask me these questions; why I was interfered with by his soldiers; why I was prodded in the back by their guns; why I was thrust into your old prison; why I am handcuffed, and why I am here; and just tell him firmly, Mr. Interpreter, that I do not propose to answer any more of his questions until he answers a few of mine."
The clerk, who was transcribing the testimony looked up in amazement as the interpreter began to literally and faithfully translate Harry's words. Mr. Wyman looked worried and leaned forward, and said:
"Treat the court with due deference, my young sir, or even my diplomacy may not be powerful enough to save you from the wrath of the general."
"I think I must have a few rights here, Mr. Wyman. I certainly have a right to know with what crime I am charged before I am examined."
"Yes, yes, that is quite true, quite true," replied the consul, advancing to the desk and speaking to the general.
"You are charged with being suspicious characters," said the interpreter, repeating the words of the presiding officer.
"Oh, thank you," said Harry, politely. "You can now tell the judge he may proceed."
The interpreter wisely refrained from repeating Harry's words.
"What are you doing in Cuba?"
"How many were there in your party?"
"Now, that's such a foolish question, general; that little fat officer there knows there were only two of us. In fact, here we are; you can see for yourself."
"How did you reach Cuba?"
"Where did you land?"
"On the coast."
"General Serano says your answers are not satisfactory," said the interpreter.
"Surely he wants me to tell him the truth," said Harry, affecting surprise.
"Yes, but he wants all the truth."
"I have answered his questions truthfully and directly. If he wants further information and doesn't know how to ask for it, he cannot expect the prisoner to supply the questions."
"At what point or place on the coast of Cuba did you land?"
"I do not know."
"Does your companion know?"
"He is as densely ignorant on that point as I am."
"What was the name of the steamer?"
"I refuse to answer."
The little fat officer poked one of his soldiers in the ribs in a very unmilitary fashion, and the general looked at the consul with an expression that said, "I told you so." The consul himself looked at Harry in honest amazement.
"Do you refuse to answer on the ground that you might incriminate yourself?"
"No, on the ground that I might incriminate someone else," answered Harry, promptly.
"Who is that someone else?"
"Now, general, that is another one of those foolish questions. If I could answer one I could answer the other."
"Then you refuse again?"
"Will you tell the court why you came to Cuba?"
"Because I had to. I assure you we are not travelling for our health, and would have been very glad to have been back in the United States long before we met your little fat officer on the mountain."
"Then why did you come?"
"To be perfectly frank, general, we were out yachting off Martha's Vineyard—I don't suppose you know where that is—when a steamer ran us down during a storm, picked us up, and brought us along to Cuba—that's all."
"And you still persist in refusing to give the name of the steamer?"
"Yes, sir, but with due respect to the court," Harry smiled pleasantly at the consul. He looked upon the examination as a mere farce, and did not now regard their position as at all serious. Although he did not consider the consul a particularly forceful representative of the United States, he felt confident that the Spanish general would not dare to ignore his demands. Could he have forseen the occurrences of the next few days he would not have felt so easy in his mind. The general turned again and addressed the boy.
"According to your testimony," repeated the interpreter, "your presence here on the island is entirely accidental, therefor it is difficult to reconcile this testimony with your refusal to answer the simple questions of the court. In this I wish to say that your consul and representative here concurs with me. I now warn you that you must answer the questions that I am about to ask you or take the consequences that your refusal will entail. Personally, I believe that you could, if you would, clear yourself and your companion of all suspicion, and if your explanation of your presence on board this mysterious steamer is true, and I believe it is, your refusal to answer the questions will only further complicate the case against you."
"The general is quite right, my boy," said the consul earnestly. "You can see that he means to give you every opportunity to clear yourself."
"Very well, sir. Suppose you have another try," said Harry, turning to General Serano. "I assure you that I will answer any question that I honorably can."
"Very well: I repeat, what is the name of the steamer that brought you to Cuba?"
"I cannot answer," replied Harry, promptly.
"Remember, I have warned you. At what place on the coast did you land?"
"I have told you, general, that I do not know."
"How far from here in miles?"
"I couldn't even guess that, general."
"How long had you been away from the steamer when my men found you?"
"I cannot answer."
"Do you mean that you are unable to answer, or that you refuse?"
"Where were you going?"
"To tell the plain truth we were very well lost when your friend there overtook us."
"But you had an objective point that you were trying to reach. What was that?"
"I cannot answer."
"Very well; you may step aside."
After a few words from General Serano, the interpreter turned to Bert, and said:
"Step forward, please. The general wishes to ask you a few questions also."
"All right," answered Bert, stepping promptly to the front.
"You have heard the questions that have been asked your companion?"
"And you have heard those that he refused to answer?"
"Will you answer them?"
The answer was apparently not unexpected. The general and the consul began an earnest conversation in Spanish. The latter seemed to protest against the decision of General Serano who, however, was set and determined. Finally, Mr. Wyman turned to the boys.
"I am very sorry," he said, "that for some reason which I cannot conceive you will not satisfactorily answer the questions of the court. I have endeavored to have you paroled in my custody, but the general will not permit it."
"Do you mean that we are to be sent back to jail?" asked Harry, in surprise.
"That is the general's intention. It is not too late for you to answer his questions, though, and I am sure that if you do, you will be promptly released."
"And has the United States Consul no power or authority?"
"He has the power to see that you have a fair and impartial hearing. You have had that, and must blame only yourselves for the position in which you now find yourselves. I shall not desert you, and if you care to make a confidant of me, perhaps I can suggest some way to extricate you from this tangle."
"We will take a little time to think the matter over, Mr. Wyman, thank you. It is not alone ourselves who are involved, or would be involved, if we attempted now to clear ourselves."
General Serano now indicated that he wished to speak to the prisoners, and the consul fell back.
"Young men," repeated the interpreter, "the conditions in Cuba are such, and particularly in this province, that the utmost vigilance is necessary on the part of the authorities. Your explanation of the suspicious circumstances under which you are detained is entirely unsatisfactory to me. You are found alone in a country infested by men who are in revolt against the Government, travelling with seeming security; you admit having landed on the coast from a steamer whose name you refuse to tell; you are apparently headed for the center of the insurgent uprising. You will not tell where you are going or from whence you come. It is my duty to hold you, and you are therefore remanded to jail pending a further investigation. Perhaps in a few hours, or say to-morrow, you may be willing to answer my questions, in which case you may so inform your consul, and he will take such steps as are necessary to reopen the hearing. I am sorry that you will not be guided by the more mature mind of Mr. Wyman in a matter that may be more serious in its consequences than you imagine."
The general waved his hand, and the fat officer, with a malignant smile of triumph marshalled his men and approached Harry and Bert with the muzzles of their guns once more extended toward them. A sharp word from General Serano caused them to lower their guns and assume a less dictatorial manner toward the prisoners.
Once more the boys were conducted to the gloomy white jail and the doors of their prison room closed upon them.
THE SECRET PASSAGE
Two men entered the room shortly after the door had closed on the boys, and removed the handcuffs. They passed out in the same silent manner, and the prisoners were left alone again. There was no light in the room, but the moonbeams entered through the barred windows, and cast two streaks of light across the floor that was sufficient to enable the boys to see almost as well as by daylight. They each sat down dejectedly upon a bed and for a long time neither uttered a word. Harry was trying to think out the true meaning of their position, which began to assume a more serious phase to him. There was no element of play in it, now.
He reviewed his recent examination by General Serano, and wished he had not assumed quite so nonchalant an air, although he felt that he could not have answered the questions which would perhaps involve the safety of Captain Dynamite. They were unquestionably in a disagreeable situation. He realized that if he were to tell the entire truth they would be immediately released, but the truth would at once set the Spaniards on the heels of O'Connor, and Harry could not forget the personal risk the man had taken to save their lives after he had run them down, nor the kindness with which they, as unbidden guests on his ship, had been treated. To betray his confidence would be a dastardly act, for, even if he could have doubted the words of O'Connor, the actions of the commander of the gunboat were sufficient to indicate that it would go hard with the intrepid skipper of the Mariella if he should fall into the hands of the Spaniards.
Mason and Washington were still to be counted on. He felt sure that they would continue on their way to O'Connor and that he would make some move to effect their rescue. There was one strong objection to waiting for O'Connor. Whatever plan he might adopt for their relief must necessarily be attended by violence, for in no other way could he approach their captors, except it be by strategy, and there seemed to be no chance of escape in that way.
He feared for O'Connor's sake to take the consul into their confidence, except as a last resort. While he had the utmost respect for the man's integrity he feared the influence of General Serano. At all events there was nothing that could be done to-night. He turned to Bert who was sitting in an equally dejected frame of mind on the edge of his bed with his head in his hands.
"Let's turn in, Bert, old man. Things may be brighter in the morning."
"I don't see much hope. Do you think Captain Dynamite would care if we told that Spanish gentleman the whole truth as to how we came here?"
"No, I don't," replied Harry, indignantly. "If O'Connor could advise us I know the man well enough to believe that the first thing he would tell us to do would be to make a clean breast of everything. But I would hate to say what I should think of myself, or of you, if either of us did such a thing. Why man, you know as well as I do that it would set the Spaniards after him like a pack of hounds on the trail. And you know there is a price on his head and a big one, too. Don't let any more such bubbles get into your think tank or you and I will have to part company."
"You are right, Hal," said Bert, sheepishly. "I didn't think of the danger to him."
"Well, then, let's go to bed."
The boys threw off only their outer clothing and lay down on the hard husk mattresses and were soon fast asleep notwithstanding the uncertainty and danger of their predicament.
The place was in almost total darkness when Harry awakened suddenly and sat bolt upright in bed. He listened for a moment intently, as if for the repetition of the sound that had awakened him.
"What was it, I wonder. Something must have wakened me."
He sat motionless for a long time, but not a sound broke the stillness of the night.
"I know I heard something," he said to himself as he dropped back on the bed again. He could not sleep, however, for the sense that he had been awakened by a strange sound, and the mental effort that he had made to catch a repetition of it, had completely aroused him. He lay on his back looking up into the darkness when he heard a sound like a smothered sigh.
"Bert," he whispered, as he sprang up and sat on the edge of his bed, "was that you?"
"What's that? What's the matter, old man?" asked Bert, aroused from his sleep.
"Was that you?"
"Was what me—what's the matter with you, Hal?"
"Have you been awake?"
"No, not until you called me."
"Then you didn't sigh?"
"Not unless it was in my sleep."
"This wasn't a sleepy sigh."
"Say, Hal, what is the matter with you? You make me feel creepy."
"I heard a sigh."
Bert groped his way over to Harry's bed and sat down beside him.
"Say, old man, you're not asleep, are you?"
"No; Listen! There it is again."
The boys drew closer together and put out their hands until they touched one another. The sound they heard seemed to come from nowhere in particular.
"What do you think it is, Hal?"
"I don't know. Wait until we hear it again."
By this time their eyes had become accustomed to the darkness of the room, and aided by the star-lighted sky, they could see into every corner. There was no one in the room. Somewhat reassured they waited. The next time the sound was an unmistakable sob, and it seemed to be wafted through the barred windows on the still night air.
"I know what it is," said Harry, eagerly jumping from the bed and pulling the table under the window. "It's some one in the cell next to ours. Let's try to talk to him."
"He's probably a Spaniard or a Cuban, and will not be able to understand you."
"I'm going to try, anyway. Misery loves company, you know."
Harry mounted the table and put his face between the bars.
"Hist," he said.
A low moaning cry answered him.
"Bert, it's a woman," said Harry, turning in amazement to his companion, who now mounted the table beside him.
"How do you know?"
"Couldn't you hear? It was a woman's voice."
"Hist," said Harry, again, as loudly as he dared. "Who are you? Can we help you in any way?"
He hardly expected a reply for he felt, as did Bert, that they would not find any other English-speaking prisoners confined there. His surprise was great therefore, when a low voice, with just a suspicion of soft Spanish accent, asked:
"Who are you?"
"We are two American boys who would like to assist you if we can."
"Are you prisoners also?"
"Then I fear you can be of little assistance to me, but I thank you very much for your interest. What have they shut you up for; are you friends of the insurgents?"
"We have one very good friend among them, but until we met him we did not know an insurgent from a Spanish regular. May I ask what offense you have committed against the laws of this fussy country?"
"I am a Cuban," said the soft voice, with a little gasping sob.
"Is that a crime?"
"Yes; to be a true Cuban."
"O, I see. You are what they call a sympathizer."
"How long have you been here?"
"I have lost count of the days and nights. I think a week."
"Have they ill-treated you?"
"Not yet, but they threaten to if I do not give them the information they seek, to-morrow."
"What do they want to know that you can tell them?"
"Much, very much, about the insurgent arms."
"And you will tell them to-morrow?"
"Not to-morrow—not ever."
The voice was low and full of tears, but there was a ring of determination that told of a strong heart despite her woman's weakness.
"Hooray," whispered Bert. "Good for you."
"And have you no friends who can aid you?"
"Yes, one, but he may even now be dead or dying in a Spanish dungeon. It is for him I weep, not for myself. There is a price upon his head."
"What," said the boys in a breath.
"Is he Captain Dynamite of the Mariella?" asked Harry, excitedly.
"He is sometimes called so. His name is Michael O'Connor. What do you know of him?"
The woman's voice trembled with excitement.
"Hoop la," whispered Harry, hardly able to refrain from shouting. "Captain Dynamite is not in any dungeon cell, Miss Juanita, and if I am not mistaken he is already devising some plan with Gomez to effect your rescue."
"Who are you," whispered the girl in amazement, "who know O'Connor and my name so well?"
"I told you, Miss Juanita, that we had one friend among the Cubans; that is Captain Dynamite. We made the last trip with him on the Mariella, though not willingly. We'll tell you that story some other time when you are well out of this."
"He was well?" nervously whispered the girl.
"Yes, until he got the dispatch from Gomez telling him that you had been captured. Then he was off to Cubitas like a shot in the middle of the night. We were trying to join him when they nabbed us."
"But they have not learned from you where he is?"
"Miss Juanita, you wrong us. We do not betray our friends."
"Oh, and it is because you will not betray him that you are here. I kiss your hands."
"Permit us to kiss yours—figuratively—Miss Juanita," said Harry, gallantly, while Bert gulped down a lump in his throat when he thought of his suggestion to tell the Spanish general the truth.
"But I wouldn't have done it, Hal, old man," he said, involuntarily.
"Wouldn't have done what?"
"Not when it came right down to bed rock."
"What are you talking about, Bert?"
"Oh, nothing. I was just thinking."
"Well, don't think so loud unless you are going to take me into your confidence. Any chance of getting out of that dungeon cell of yours, Miss Juanita?"
At this moment they heard the sound of regular footsteps outside.
"'Sh," whispered the voice. "It is the guard. Go away from the window."
The boys jumped down from the table, and as they did so, Bert stumbled and fell heavily against the wall. When he recovered his balance they heard a strange grinding sound like a heavy door creaking on rusty hinges. The boys listened in wonder.
"Gee, but this is a creepy old place," said Bert, as the noise continued. "Now, what do you suppose that is?"
"It sounds as if it came from the wall there. Let's investigate."
They moved nervously over to the stone wall that separated their prison room from that of Miss Juanita. The noise seemed nearer and more distinct, but they could see nothing that might cause it. Still the strange sound continued. In the semi-darkness they watched in wonderment the blank face of the wall from which the sound seemed to proceed. Suddenly Harry seized Bert by the arm.
"Look!" he whispered in a tense voice. He pointed to a large stone in about the centre of the wall. "Doesn't it move?"
The stone to which Harry referred was larger than any other, being three feet square, and placed about waist-high from the floor. Bert watched intently. It seemed to him that he could see a slight trembling movement and then an almost imperceptible jump as the hand of an electric clock advances with a jerk. The face of the stone, too, seemed to be out of line with the others.
They advanced closer, and Harry passed his hand cautiously under the stone. Unquestionably it had moved, either by accident or design. The upper edge projected into the room beyond the line of the wall at least an inch and the lower edge receded in the same way. As Harry's hand rested on the stone he felt it tremble and jump and the upper edge advanced another quarter of an inch into the room.
"That stone is revolving on a horizontal axis," said Harry, confidently, after his inspection. "Now the question is: How and why?"
"It seems uncomfortably like the times of the inquisition," said Bert, shuddering.
"Oh, pshaw, don't you see that wall separates us from the cell of Miss Juanita, and the Spaniards would have nothing to do with opening this passage?"
"Do you think she is doing it, then?"
"No, for had she known of the stone she would have mentioned it when I asked her if there was any chance of escape from her prison. It has come about through an accident, I feel sure, but how? Of course there must be some secret spring that works it, but where is it and how and by whom has it been operated?"
"Hal, I believe I did it," whispered Bert, excitedly.
"What on earth do you mean?"
"You know when I jumped down from the table I fell against the wall. It was immediately after that we heard the creaking."
"Thunder, you are right. You must have touched the spring."
"I think so. Let's look for it."
The boys carefully examined the wall near the place where Bert had stumbled, and to the left of the revolving stone they found a small, diamond-shaped stone that to the casual observer would appear to have been set in the wall to fill in the broken corner of one of the larger stones. Upon close inspection they found that it was set loosely in the wall without mortar. They dared not touch it for fear it might stop the invisible machinery that it had evidently set in motion.
Slowly the stone continued its unsteady revolution, until at the end of about five minutes the creaking stopped, there was a clicking sound as if a cog had settled into place, and all movement ceased. The big slab, which was six inches thick, had now obtained a horizontal position, leaving an opening above and below into the next room, or cell. The axis upon which the stone revolved was a little above the centre, so that the lower opening was nearly eighteen inches high.
The boys peered through into the darkness of the next cell.
"Miss Juanita," called Harry, softly. "May we come in? Perhaps this scheme of opening walls may continue through to the outside world."
THE EXECUTION AT DAWN
"Who is there?" came a frightened voice from the farthest corner of the room.
"It's the American boys who were talking with you at the window," answered Harry, reassuringly. "We are friends. Do not fear."
"Oh," came in a gasp of relief. "I thought they were about to inflict some new horror upon me. What have you done?"
"We do not quite know ourselves. In some way we touched a secret spring that rolled over this stone and formed a passage between these two cells. It is just possible that there may be another one. May we come in and look?"
"Yes, yes, come in. Oh, perhaps it is true—perhaps we shall be able to escape from this horrible place."
"Do not hope for too much. It was only a chance thought of mine. However, we better see."
The boys climbed through the opening without difficulty and found themselves in a room exactly similar to the one they had left, except that it was furnished a little more comfortably for a woman.
The moon had set, but they were now so used to the darkness that with the little starlight that penetrated through the barred windows they were able to see quite well. They went at once to the wall directly opposite and began an eager search for a diamond-shaped stone. There was none, nor was there any big slab-like stone resembling the revolving one in the wall through which they had just passed. They tried the other two walls, but also without avail. It was evident that only these two cells were connected.
"Well, Miss Juanita," said Harry, when they had assured themselves that there was no other opening, "we have only succeeded in widening our prisons. There is no other means of exit but the doors. I am very sorry to have raised your expectations."
The girl, who had followed them eagerly from place to place as they examined the walls, held out her hands in protest at Harry's words.
"Oh, let me thank you for the ray of happiness you have brought me," she said, quickly.
"I can't think that we have in any way lightened your burden, except that you may count on us to do anything in our power to help you, but I fear that is very little."
"Ah, but you brought me news of him and—and the knowledge of the near presence of friends is cheering."
"Yes, Miss Juanita, and I think you can bank on hearing more news from him in the very near future."
"I hope so for—for all our sakes."
"Now that we are literally up against a stone wall, I think we better climb back into our own cell before the guard takes it into his head to look around. Cheer up, Miss Juanita, Captain Dynamite will be on the march before long, I'll warrant you. Good night."
"Good-night, my friends."
"Now I wonder how the old stone works backwards?" said Harry, when they had returned to their own room.
"Press the button and the stone will do the rest," said Bert, with a grim attempt at humor. He pressed the diamond-shaped stone as he spoke, but there was no answering creak, nor did the slab move.
"It is not likely that the same spring does double duty. We will have to hunt up the other," said Harry. "Now, by all the laws of symmetry there should be another similar stone on the other side of the slab—and here it is."
He pushed on this as he spoke, and at once the grinding sound began again and the stone slowly settled back into place.
"Well, our discovery of the Don's secret inquisitorial passage does not appear to have done us much good," said Bert, as they stretched themselves out on their beds again.
"I'm not so sure of that," replied Harry, thoughtfully. "I think I see a way by which at least one of us three can benefit by it."
"Wait until I get it all thought out. In the meantime I am going to get a little more sleep."
They did not return to their own cell any too soon, for they had no more than turned over for their second nap when a light flashed in their eyes and they sat up to find their silent jailor had opened the door noiselessly and was inspecting the room with the aid of a large lantern. He nodded his head in a satisfied way and passed out again.
"Say, Hal, old man, this sort of thing is getting on my nerves," said Bert, when the man had gone.
"I wouldn't mind a few streaks of daylight myself, Bert."
Tired as they were, the boys' nerves were so worked upon that they were unable to go to sleep again and tossed on their cots until the gray dawn began to show through the windows. They lay in a sort of lethargy watching the sky grow brighter and brighter until they were aroused to action by the loud voices of men and the clanking of guns in the jail yard below.
"Holloa, I wonder what's up now," said Harry, jumping up and climbing on the table to peer out.
The yard was still full of dark shadows and the forms of men were not fully distinguishable, but Harry could make out a group of armed soldiers standing at ease, chatting and smoking cigarettes near one of the gray walls. An officer, apart from his men, strutted pompously up and down the yard.
"I guess they must be going to drill," said Bert, who had climbed up beside Harry.
"Pretty early for drill."
"Time doesn't seem to cut any figure in this country. I've been doing something night and day ever since we struck the place. I should like to get home to a quiet life again."
Another officer entered the yard and approached the man who paced to and fro. He handed him a paper which the other read, nodded as if in assent, and turning to the men gave an order in a sharp voice. The soldiers fell into a file of threes and at another word of command marched quickly into the jail, the officer following them, leisurely rolling a cigarette.
In another moment the boys heard the tramp of feet at the lower end of the corridor outside of their cell.
"Are they coming for us, do you think, Hal?" asked Bert, in a tremulous voice.
The footsteps came nearer and nearer. Now they were just outside the door and the boys involuntarily caught their breath. They passed on without stopping and they heard them die away down the passage. Again there was silence and then a sound as if a heavy iron door had been closed with a bang. This was followed again by the regular tramp of the soldiers' feet as they returned along the corridor. They passed the door of the boys' cell and again the sound died away.
Harry turned again to the window. The soldiers filed rapidly into the yard, but this time there was another in their ranks. A man in his shirt sleeves with his hands bound behind his back marched with head erect between the two middle ranks. He was a tall, muscular man, broad of shoulder and lithe of limb. His face was pale, but the expression was calm and determined. His step was firm and the soldiers at his back found no need to urge him on. They marched straight to the wall of the yard that faced the jail, and at a command from the officer, the soldiers parted, leaving the man standing with his back to the wall and facing his captors.
As the soldiers fell back they formed ranks of six on either side of the prisoner, the butts of their rifles resting on the ground. Down this narrow human alley the commander strode until he stood face to face with the man against the wall. He spoke to him in Spanish and the prisoner replied briefly, at the same time lifting his head proudly and looking his questioner firmly in the eye. Although the boys could understand nothing that was said, it was easy to tell that the officer had made some offer which the other proudly rejected. The boys looked on with a feeling that they were about to witness a tragedy, but some strange fascination prevented them from turning away.
The commander turned to the jail and lifted his hand as a signal. A friar in long solemn robes walked slowly down between the ranks of soldiers, his eyes fixed on the ground. As he reached the prisoner, he stopped in front of him and raised his head. In his thin, worn face there was an expression of gentle sorrow. He spoke a few words and raised a cross before the face of the other, who leaned eagerly forward and kissed it. The friar bowed his head and fell back a few paces. In a low voice he repeated what was apparently a prayer, and then once more holding the cross for a moment before the eyes of the doomed man, he turned and walked slowly back to the jail, his lips still moving in prayer.
A man stepped out of the ranks and tied a silk handkerchief over the eyes of the prisoner. The boys, watching breathlessly through the bars of the window, were pale with the horror of the scene. They now understood the tragedy that was about to be enacted, but they could not shake off the desire to look.
The soldier moved back into the ranks, there was another sharp command and the lines wheeled and marched in a single rank of twelve back to the jail wall. They were now directly under the boys and out of their line of vision. All they could see was the man with the bound hands and bandaged eyes standing calmly facing them.
There was another quick command, followed instantly by a rattle of arms.
The boys cast off the spell that had held them, and with a cry of horror jumped down from the table and throwing themselves on the beds placed their hands over their ears.
Another command in a low tone, and the discharge of twelve guns as one ended it.
"I hope she did not see," said Harry, raising his white face.
He had scarcely uttered the words, when the wild shriek of a woman rang out on the morning air.
A loud, coarse laugh from the jail yard followed the pitiful cry and Harry clenched his hand in futile anger.
It was sometime before the boys recovered from the unpleasant effects of the scene they had witnessed in the jail yard.
"I wonder who he was?" said Bert, after a long silence.
"Probably an insurgent. But whoever he was, he was a brave man."
The door of their cell quietly opened at this moment and a man brought food and set it on the table. The boys, who had not eaten anything for many hours, disposed of the porridge and some mysterious sort of meat stew with relish. They had scarcely finished their meal when the cell door opened again and the gentleman with the genial smile, who had acted as interpreter, appeared.
"Good morning," he said, cheerily. "Did you sleep well?"
"Very well, thank you," replied Harry, wondering what the purpose of the man's visit might be.
"Thought I would drop in and see if there was any message you would like to send to the general or to Consul Wyman."
"You mean that you were sent to see if we were ready to talk yet, don't you?"
"Just a different way of putting it."
"Well, you may tell General What-You-May-Call-Him that we have nothing more to say than we said yesterday; and you may also inform him that our situation is known to our friends by this time, and that he will be held to a strict accounting by Uncle Sam for this outrage upon two American citizens."
"You have communicated with your friends—how?"
The genial smile on the man's face faded into a look of surprise and anxiety. He glanced quickly around the room to see if there was any means by which they could have communicated with the outside world.
"That is another one of those questions that we claim the privilege of refusing to answer."
"I will deliver your message, but I warn you that it will not be well for you to arouse the anger of General Serano. He fears no one."
"It is entirely up to the general whether he gets angry or not. I really do not see any necessity for it."
"Will you send any message to Consul Wyman?"
"No—yes, come to think of it, I should like to speak to Mr. Wyman. Will you ask him if it will be too much trouble for him to see us here?"
"General Serano will be pleased to furnish you with an escort to the consul's. The air will do you good this morning."
"When I go to the American consul I shall go without an escort, as you call it—guard I think would be more like it."
The man shrugged his shoulders.
"I will send your message to the consul," he said.
"What do you want of the consul, Hal?" asked Bert, when the man had gone.
"He is a part of my secret-passage plot, but I do not know whether he will be game or not."
Mr. Wyman did not keep them waiting long. He bustled in behind the turnkey and greeted them heartily.
"Good morning, boys," he said. "I understand you want to see me. I hope you have changed your minds and will now sensibly answer the general's questions and set yourselves at liberty."
"No, Mr. Wyman, we will never do that—at least not until we know that the one we might injure by so doing is quite safe. We did think, however, sir, that we would like to take you into our confidence."
"The best thing you can do, boys. I may be able to help you out of your trouble; at least, I can act with more intelligence in your interests."
"Yes, sir, so we thought," answered Harry meekly, glancing at Bert, who sat open mouthed, utterly in ignorance of Harry's plans. "Do you think there is any chance of our being disturbed?" he continued, looking at the door.
"None whatever. The man with the key will not open the door until I rap three times."
"Very well, sir, if you will take that chair I shall be quite comfortable here on the bed."
The consul drew his chair up close to Harry and sat down. Bert also seated himself on the bed. Beginning with the wreck of their sail boat, Harry then told Mr. Wyman in sequence the events that had led up to their present incarceration in a Spanish jail in Cuba.
"Now, sir," he said, as he concluded, "you can understand why we cannot tell anything that will in any way bring harm to Captain Dynamite."
"Yes, yes," said the consul, who had been deeply interested in the boy's story. "A marvelous man, and there are many more like him in the service of Cuba. I believe they will win. I—I hope they will win."
Mr. Wyman lowered his voice and looked around the room as if to see whether there was anyone to overhear him. Harry looked at him in surprise.
"I thought you were a Spanish sympathizer, Mr. Wyman," he said.
"Diplomacy, my boy, only diplomacy."
"I am very glad to hear you say so, sir; you may fall in with my plan quicker."
"What plan?" asked the consul, suspiciously.
"I will tell you presently, but I have not finished my story yet. You see that wall?" Harry pointed to the wall between their cell and the one occupied by Miss Juanita. The consul nodded. "Behind that wall is a young woman—a Cuban sympathizer—who is awaiting torture, perhaps death, at the hands of her captors, because she will not betray the cause. And that young woman is Miss Juanita, the sweetheart of Captain Dynamite."
"How do you know this, boys?" asked Mr. Wyman, springing to his feet in excitement.
"Do you see that big slab in the wall?"
"That closes a secret passage between this room and hers. Last night we accidentally touched the spring that rolls back the stone, and we talked to her. If you can depend upon our not being disturbed, I will open it now and you can see for yourself."
"I will answer for the man with the key. He now and then gets a little present from me. I find it convenient to be in touch with all hands. Diplomacy, my boy, diplomacy."
Harry stepped to the wall and pressed the diamond-shaped stone. The groaning and creaking of the rusty mechanism of the revolving stone began and in five minutes the passage was open. Harry peered through and started back with a cry.
The young woman lay face downward on the stone floor of her cell.
"Miss Juanita," called Harry, softly. "What is the matter? Get up. It is your friends again."
She did not stir.
"She may be dead," said Harry, in fear, as he climbed through the passage. He kneeled down beside her and turned her limp body over so that he could see her face. "No, she still breathes."
"Perhaps she has fainted," said Mr. Wyman from the other side of the passage. "Take some water from that pitcher there and bathe her face."
Harry did as directed and soon a faint sigh escaped from her pallid lips, and in a moment more she opened her eyes and looked up, dazed and frightened.
"Do not be afraid, Miss Juanita," said Harry, nervously. "It is the American boys again. What has happened?"
"I think I fainted," she said, weakly. "Oh, it's all so terrible."
Painfully she dragged herself to her feet and sank into a chair that Harry placed for her.
"What is so terrible?" he asked.
"First the shooting in the jail yard this morning. Did you see it?" Harry nodded his head. "I cried out. I tried not to, but the horror was too great. They laughed. They had wrung from me the first sign of womanly weakness. Then they came to me and repeated their demands for information. But I was strong again and they left me with curses. To-morrow I shall stand where he did in the jail yard. I must have fainted when they left me. But do not mind. It is soon over. Tell him when you see him that I died bravely for—for him and the cause."
The woman buried her face in her hands and sobbed softly.
"Do you mean, Miss," asked Mr. Wyman anxiously, through the opening, "that they told you that to-morrow—that to-morrow——" He could not finish the sentence, but she understood him and nodded her head.
Harry stooped down and whispered:
"Do not fear, Miss Juanita, it will not be at dawn to-morrow, nor any other day. But much will depend upon yourself, so dry your eyes, Miss, and be ready to do your part when the time comes."
The woman looked up at him wonderingly.
"Have you heard from him?" she asked.
"Not yet, but you will if you will only arouse yourself a bit and be ready to do as I tell you when I come back."
Harry turned from her quickly and hastily climbing through the passage, touched the spring that closed it.
"Now, Mr. Wyman," he said, as the stone rolled into place. "You have seen and heard."
"What an outrage—what a horrible outrage," murmured the consul, gazing blankly ahead of him.
"Will you listen to my plan now, Mr. Wyman?" said Harry.
"Yes, yes," replied the consul, eagerly. "What is it?"
Harry drew him down on the bed beside him and in a whisper that even Bert could not hear, unfolded the scheme that had come suddenly into his head in nebulous shape when they had discovered the secret passage.
"But think of the sacrifice," said the consul in an uncertain tone when Harry had concluded.
"Never mind that, sir—that is for me to consider, and I have done so. I am willing to take the chance."
"But if you come to my house I shall be at once connected with the escape and that would bring my office into disrepute. I do not care for myself, but the United States must not be brought into the case."
"But if I never reach your house you cannot in any way be responsible. Listen—all you have to do is to tell General What's-His-Name that I have promised you to tell the whole truth in regard to our landing, but that I insist that I shall be paroled and permitted to visit you alone and without guard. Bert will remain as hostage, so that there can be no suspicion."
"Say, Hal," said Bert, nervously, "you are not going to leave me here alone?"
"Not for long, old man. What do you say, Mr. Wyman? Think how you would feel if these men carried out their threat, and they are quite capable of it."
"I'll do my best, my boy. Your risk is the greater, but it is a noble act."
Mr. Wyman rose and shook Harry's hand vigorously. He rapped three times on the door and as the jailer opened it he turned again and said: "You will hear from me shortly, when I have laid your case before General Serano."
"Say, Hal," said Bert, as soon as the door closed, "what is this plan of yours, and why am I kept in the dark like an outsider?"
"Because I want to take all the responsibility and do not want to have you mixed up in it if it should fail."
"But I am willing to take equal chances with you, old man. It isn't fair."
"Oh, yes, it is. You will understand later."
Bert moped for a time in resentment, but as Harry refused to be affected by his mood, he soon cheered up and determined to watch for developments that might enlighten him as to the plot that Harry and the consul were hatching. But nothing developed. A guard brought in their dinner and it was nearly nightfall before their door opened again and the smiling interpreter entered.
"So you have thought better of it, after all, young gentlemen?" he said.
"I do not know whether it is better or worse, but we have thought differently, if that's what you mean," answered Harry.
"I mean that you have decided to tell the general what he wants to know."
"No, I have decided to tell Consul Wyman."
"Yes, but he will tell the general."
"That will be his concern."
"Very well. Here is a pass from General Serano through the guards. When you are ready to go, rap three times on the door and it will be opened. Only one of you is to leave this place; the pass is for only one. Should both of you attempt to use it you would be at once arrested. I simply warn you."
"Thank you. We have no intention of trying to escape. We enjoy your hospitality too much and the longer we board with you the longer the score you will have to settle with Uncle Sam."
Harry took the pass from the man, who then left the cell.
"Now to work, Bert," said Harry, eagerly, as the door closed. "Listen! When it is dark I am going through the passage. You must close it at once, so that in case any one should come in it will not be discovered."
"But suppose the jailor should come in; how can I account for your absence?"
"You cannot understand him nor he you, and he would probably rush off to make a report of my escape. Before his return I will be back. But that will not be very likely to happen. When I have been in the other cell ten minutes, open the passage again, and when I come through do not speak, no matter what you may see or hear. Then close the passage at once. Do you understand?"
"And after I have left this room see to it that the door is safely closed again, and then once more open the passage."
"Never mind that now. Do you know what you are to do?"
"Yes; close and open the passage twice and say nothing."
They did not have to wait long for darkness. Night was now falling rapidly. They sat in silence as the dark shadows began to fill the room. Harry was in a serious, thoughtful mood and talked but little. Finally, when the room became so dark that they could not see one another's faces, he rose.
"It is time now, Bert," he whispered. "Remember your part."
He stepped to the wall and groping around until he found the spring, pressed it and the stone began to revolve. When the passage was fully open, he peered through into the darkness of the other cell, and whispered:
"Miss Juanita, do not be afraid; it is the American boys. Are you there?"
"Yes," came a soft answer.
Harry climbed through the passage and Bert promptly touched the spring that closed it. The heavy stone moved slowly back into place and Bert was alone.
He had no watch, so he counted the seconds. The ten minutes seemed an hour to him. At last they passed and he opened the passage again. For some reason he expected to see Harry and the young woman climb through, but only the form of the boy appeared in the gloom. He waited a moment to be sure that the girl did not follow, and then closed the passage. As the stone settled into place, the form moved quickly to the door and rapped three times. Almost instantly it swung open and the jailor with his lantern stood without. As the boy's form glided silently out past the stolid turnkey, Bert started back and with difficulty suppressed a cry of amazement. For a moment the light of the lantern had fallen on the face of the form in the doorway.
"YOU WILL BE SHOT AS SPIES"
When Bert had somewhat recovered from his surprise, he rushed to the wall and pressed the spring to open the passage. A form in girl's clothes climbed quickly through, but it was the voice of Harry that whispered:
"Hustle, Bert, and close the passage. No telling when they may discover that the bird has flown. I must get under cover with these duds on."
He jumped into bed and drew the sheet up close around his neck.
"I'm quite ill, you know; sudden attack of malaria. Can't receive any callers."
"Has Miss Juanita gone to see the consul?" asked Bert.
"Not unless the consul has taken a trip to the mountains."
"What do you mean—why don't you let me in on your plot now that you seem to have carried it out successfully?"
"Can't be sure of success just yet, but I think it will work."
"And when do we get out?"
"I don't know; maybe we are in it tighter than ever. Sure to be if they find that we or rather I had anything to do with her escape, and I guess they must sooner or later."
"Where has she gone?"
"I hope by this time she is pretty well out of the town, headed for the open between here and the mountains. In the darkness she is all right and the deception will not be discovered. She makes a very good boy and as she is about the same heighth as I am my clothes fit her first rate. The pass will carry her through the lines all right and as she knows the country like a book, I hope she may make the mountains and the road to Cubitas before daylight. If she does she is safe, and I have a strong conviction that she will meet Captain Dynamite on the march before midday to-morrow. And gee, what a meeting that will be—I should like to be there and see the expression on big O'Connor's face when he sees her."
"Then your plan did not have anything to do with our release from this place?"
"Nope—only Miss Juanita's. She was in danger; we are not."
"We may be after this."
"Yes, but I think we can depend upon O'Connor. Mason and Washington should have reached him by this time."
"What can he do to help us?"
"I don't know, Bert, but I think he is the sort of man who will find something to do."
"What are you going to do for clothes?"
"That's another problem that will have to work itself out. Meanwhile I shall have to stick to Miss Juanita's dress. Didn't you think it fitted well? I shall have to have it let out around the waist a little, I think. I guess they don't serve any supper in this hotel, and as I got very little sleep last night, I think I will take a snooze while we wait for something to happen."
Harry was soon fast asleep, but Bert, though also very tired, was more anxious as to the outcome of their affairs and sat for a long time on the edge of his bed, thinking. The moon rose in a clear sky and cast two bright beams through the barred windows and across the prison floor. Bert's revery was disturbed by the sound of hurrying feet in the corridor and the clamor of loud voices approaching their cell.
"I guess something's going to happen," said Bert, nervously to himself. "Perhaps I better be asleep, too." He rolled over onto the bed and appeared to be deep in slumber when the door was thrown open roughly and three men entered the room. They were General Serano, who was scowling darkly; Consul Wyman and the ever-smiling interpreter.
"I wonder why he always mixes up in everything," thought Bert as he peeked at their visitors out of the corner of his eye.
Serano stopped just beyond the threshold and in surprise pointed to the two occupied beds. Then he said something in Spanish to Mr. Wyman, who replied calmly:
"I told you that neither of them had been at my house. You see for yourself that they are both here. There must be some mistake."
"But there can be no mistake about one of them having left this place within two hours," said the interpreter. "The jailer let him out."
"Then he must have let him in again, for there they both are soundly sleeping."
"But the jailor says that he did not, and it was the boy's long absence that caused the general to send me to your house to see if he was there. You have not seen him; some one unquestionably left the prison; no one has returned and yet they are both here—what does it mean?"
Mr. Wyman shrugged his shoulders and turned to the general.
"The boys indicated to me that they were ready to give the information that you desired. I made arrangements as you know, to have one of them come to my house and there tell his story. Neither of them came. Perhaps they changed their minds."
"Let us question them."
The interpreter stepped to Bert's bedside and as he did so the boy sat up and rubbed his eyes as if just awakened.
"Good evening, gentlemen. Good evening, Mr. Wyman. What can we do for you? Is it morning yet?"
"Did either of you leave the prison to-night?" asked the interpreter quickly, without preliminary. Bert, who was entirely ignorant of what course Harry intended to pursue, dared not answer, fearing that he might undo some of his companion's plans.
"Why, I've been asleep for some time and my friend has a bad attack of malaria," he answered yawning. "I see that is moonlight and not daybreak. Can't you call around in the morning on your way to breakfast? We'd ask you to take a bite with us, but I do not think you would like the bill of fare."
"Will you or not answer a plain question? The general waits."
"Tell the general not to let me detain him. Ask him to drop in in the morning, too, when he has more time."
The man turned to Serano and shook his head.
"They are impossible, sir."
Bert saw an amused smile creep around the corners of the consul's mouth.
"Let us try the other."
As he spoke the general touched Harry on the shoulder. The boy drew the sheet closer around his neck, and murmured:
"Please go 'way."
"We only want to know if you left the prison to-night to see Mr. Wyman. He is here with us."
"No, I haven't been out of your old prison since you put us here."
"But you intended to go."
"Yes, but I changed my mind. I'm very apt to do that. I'm sorry if it put you out any, but I do not see why you couldn't wait until morning for my apologies."
"But the jailor says he let one of you out to-night and that no one returned."
"Your jailor is very silly. If he let one of us out and didn't let him back how could we both be here now? I don't want to cast any reflections on General What's-His-Name's intellect, but I should think he might figure that out for himself. Come around in the morning and we will talk it over. But I should advise you to look around for another jailor. This one's imagination is too strong."
"Then if you did not leave the jail and you have changed your mind, you have no use for that pass that General Serano sent you," said the interpreter, with his genial smile. Bert looked at Harry in dismay. How was he to get out of this snarl?
"No, that's quite true. Bert, will you get the pass for the general out of the pocket of my coat on the chair there?"
"Your coat is not here, Hal," said Bert in apparent surprise as he stepped to the chair.
"Not there? What nonsense. Tell the general that I shall hold his jailor responsible for my clothes. How under the sun am I to go about in my underclothes. It is not the value of the suit at all. It is pretty well used up now, but it's the principle of the thing."
As Harry talked he thrashed about under the bed-clothing as if in anger.
"And then there was nothing of importance in the pockets—no papers that could be of any possible value to any one. It is an outrage—tell General What-You-May-Call-Him that I consider it an outrage on a helpless prisoner to have his clothing sneaked away in the middle of the night, either for the profit of the jailor or the possible information of his captors. Mr. Wyman, is there nothing that can be done in this matter?"
General Serano spoke a few words to the interpreter, who promptly repeated them with evident glee.
"The general says you are to get out of bed."
"It's all up now," thought Bert, and his face turned a shade paler.
"The general is inconsiderate; however, since he insists I will take the chances of another chill."
As Harry spoke he drew his legs up from under the sheet and stood down on the floor clad only in his underclothing. He had somehow managed to slip out of the girl's dress while he protested against the disappearance of his clothing. Bert drew a breath of relief; but the respite was brief. General Serano, either thoughtlessly or by design, threw back the sheet from Harry's bed as soon as he touched the floor and disclosed the dress from which he had with difficulty extricated himself.
"Whose is this?" demanded the general, pouncing on the garment and holding it out for inspection.
"Whose is this?" repeated the interpreter like a parrot.
"How should I know," answered Harry.
"Probably belongs to one of your former tenants."
"It's a woman's dress."
"Yes, it looks like it. Better look up your register and see who had this room last."
At this moment there was a sound of hurrying footsteps in the corridor accompanied by a volley of Spanish expletives uttered in a frightened voice.
"I wonder what's going to happen now," whispered Harry to Bert. "These people are so full of life it makes me tired to watch them."
The turnkey burst into the room with hands uplifted and eyes bulging. He spoke a few panting words to General Serano who seized him by the neck in anger.
"She is gone, fool? How can she be gone unless you let her out?"
Then, as if struck by a sudden thought, he dropped his hold on the man and turning to Mr. Wyman, held out Juanita's dress excitedly.
"See, she is gone."
"Who is gone?" asked the consul, calmly.
"She—she in the next cell. This dress is here; the boy's clothes are gone and some one left this room to-night."
"You mean to infer that the boys contrived the escape of the woman in the next cell?" asked Mr. Wyman.
"Yes, yes, what other inference is there?"
"But can you explain how they could have communicated with her, how they could have exchanged clothes and how she could have left this cell?"
"No, no, I cannot explain that, but here is the evidence—here and there;" and he pointed excitedly to the wall of the next cell.
"The irascible old general seems to be wise on the passage," said Harry, under his breath.
"How can that be evidence if you cannot explain it, general?" asked the consul, gravely.
"No, he's not on, after all," whispered Bert.
"They shall explain," said the general, sternly pointing to the boys.
"We're in it again," said Bert. "I wish he wouldn't do that. It makes me nervous."
The general seemed to be working himself into a fury. He raised his voice as he delivered what was apparently an ultimatum to the consul.
"No, no, not that," cried Mr. Wyman, in frightened protest.
Without a word in reply General Serano turned on his heel and strode out of the room.
"What did the angry gentleman say, Mr. Wyman?" asked Harry.
"He said that if you did not explain the disappearance of Miss Juanita within forty-eight hours you would be taken out into the jail yard and shot as spies."
"Ah, Miss Juanita, eh. Then they know her," said the genial interpreter as he slunk from the room. "I must tell General Serano."
Before the eyes of the boys there rose with vivid distinctness the picture of the jail yard at dawn.
CAPTAIN DYNAMITE FINDS JUANITA
While these events had been transpiring in the Spanish town, Captain Dynamite had not been idle. As the last man of the little Cuban army filed down the mountain-side, he rose from his chair, and tightening his belt stretched his big body as was his custom when any action was imminent.
"Well, my lad, I must be off. There is no time to spare if we hope to be of use. You will remain at Cubitas and when it is all over I will send Washington and a squad to pick you up."
"Oh, no you won't, Cap. When it's all over I shall be right where you are."
O'Connor could not repress a laugh. Mason bristled with indignation at the thought of being left behind.
"There may be a good bit of fighting, my lad," said O'Connor.
"Well, I'm not spoiling for a scrap, but I can't stay behind when I may be of some use to the fellows. Better let me go along with you, Cap, for I shall be close on your trail if you don't."
"Suppose I have you locked up for safe keeping?"
"Now you wouldn't do that, Cap, would you? You can't expect a fellow to sit still and chew his thumbs in safety while his chums are in danger. You wouldn't do it, would you?"
"All right, youngster, come along. I don't blame you for wanting to have a hand in it. And you may be of some use after all."
"I hope you will give me a try, Cap," said the Midget, straightening up his small form boldly.
"Do you think you can stand the tramp? You haven't had much sleep and you may not get any more for twenty-four hours."
"That little nap I got on the bench was as good as a night's rest. Besides, this country is so strenuous one doesn't need much sleep anyway. I think if I lived here long I should give up sleeping as a useless accomplishment."
They started on down the mountain and before daybreak had overtaken the men camped on the bank of the narrow stream where they were preparing breakfast. O'Connor and Mason joined Gomez and his staff. They ate a light meal and were ready for the march again. The men all seemed to know O'Connor and the officers saluted him respectfully as he passed among them. After a conference with the general the latter called one of the officers to him, and said:
"Captain Dynamite is in command. You will take your orders from him. With your company he will take the lead in the advance."
The man saluted and then turned to O'Connor for instructions.
"Report to me when you are ready to move."
"I am ready now, sir."
"Very well, detach your company and cross the ford. We will keep about half a mile in advance of the main body until I give you other instructions. Deploy your men in twos and advance as rapidly as you can. You know the rendezvous and understand the necessity for caution. That is all."
The man saluted and in five minutes his men were fording the stream with O'Connor and Mason close in their rear. Across the open valley they made rapid progress, the men marching in regular order, but when they reached the wooded country at the foot of the next mountain the officer in command gave an order in Spanish and the men deployed in twos and disappeared like shadows into the brush. In a moment not a man was to be seen, and as O'Connor and Mason entered the woods there was not even a sound to be heard that would indicate that fifty men were making their way through the thick bushes ahead of them.
The route O'Connor followed was not so precipitous as that taken by Washington and they reached the summit of the mountain by noon. Still O'Connor pushed on, stopping only to drink from a mountain stream and to dash the cool water over his head and face, an example that Mason quickly followed. They had scarcely spoken since leaving the ford, O'Connor saving breath for the work in hand. Once or twice he had turned to the Midget who toiled manfully on at his side and asked him if he felt tired. Satisfied with the boy's ready answer that he was "all right," he would plod on again.
They had made their way about a mile down the mountain side when an officer stepped out of the bushes in front of them and saluted O'Connor.
"Well, what is it?" asked the captain in Spanish.
"A scout has brought in a prisoner."
"Who is he?"
"A boy. He is apparently faint from exhaustion."
"A boy?" said O'Connor, wonderingly. "I wonder if they can have escaped?" He repeated the man's words to Mason who despite his own fatigue, leaped and capered wildly.
"It's Hal Hamilton, I'll bet," he said joyfully. "They must have escaped. Trust Hal to fool the Dons."
"He knows the countersign and your name, sir, and he keeps repeating them in a dazed way. That's why the captain thought you might want to see him."
"I guess it's one of the boys all right, but I wonder where the other is. If I know them as I think I do one would not leave without the other. Where is he?" he asked turning again to the man.
"About a mile below, sir. We found him lying in a little clearing."
"All right, I will go to him."
"Ask him how he was dressed," said Mason as they hastened on.
The man described the boy's suit as well as he could.
"That's Hal, sure," said Mason when the reply had been translated to him. "Bert can't be far away."
"Did he have light hair?"
The man shook his head.
"Black," he answered.
"Pshaw, he's made a mistake. It must be Hal."
As they entered the clearing the prisoner sat with his back against a tree. His head was turned almost away from them, but Mason recognized the clothing and rushed forward with a glad cry.
"Cheer up, Hal, old man," he shouted as he bounded across the clearing and dropped on his knees at the boy's side. He was on his feet in a moment, his face scared and white.
"It's not Hal, Cap," he whispered as O'Connor approached at a more dignified pace. "But he's got Hal's clothes on."
"What mystery is this?" said the big man as he strode around so that he could see the face of the prisoner. The next moment he turned as white as marble, but his eyes gleamed with joy as he sank down and took the almost inanimate form in his arms.
"Juanita," he gasped. "Thank God, you are safe. Quick boy, some water."
"Thunder, it's a girl," said Mason as he stooped and looked into the face that was now resting on Captain Dynamite's shoulder. He brought some water in his cap and O'Connor bathed the girl's head and chafed her hands until she began to show some signs of returning vitality. She raised her head and looked around in a dazed manner. Then her eyes fell on O'Connor.
"Michael," she whispered, and her head sank again on his shoulder with a sigh of relief.
The men knew well the story of O'Connor's love and they silently withdrew from the glade leaving only Mason and an orderly with the strangely reunited couple. Finally Juanita was strong enough to sit up and leaning back against the tree again, she smiled into O'Connor's anxious eyes.
"I could go no further, Michael," she whispered, "but I thought you would find me here."
"How did you escape, Juanita?" asked O'Connor, softly.
"Ah, yes, the brave American boys saved me. Oh, I fear they will suffer much for it. I tried not to go for they are suspected already of being Cuban spies and this will make it worse for them; but the one they call Hal would listen to no reason, no argument. They had a friend in the American consul, he said, who would look out for them and I—I was already doomed."
"Doomed," repeated O'Connor, starting forward, his eyes snapping.
"Yes, it was to have been this morning at dawn."
O'Connor choked back something suspiciously like a sob and for a few minutes neither spoke. The man was thinking with a chill at his heart how near to death she had been. Then he beckoned to Mason.
"Come here, youngster, and hear what your brave comrades have been doing. This is the young woman we set out from the Mariella to save. Your friends have done that nobly for us; now we must return the compliment with proper interest."
The Midget bowed gravely and sat down on the ground beside O'Connor.
"They are resourceful youngsters, Juanita, as I have reason to know, but how under the sun did they manage it? I see you are wearing the suit of one of them."
"Their cell was next to mine. Night before last they heard me crying at my window. They could not see me but they spoke and asked me what they could do to help me. There was nothing to be done, so we talked and they tried to cheer me up and in some way they learned who I was and they—they told me you were safe and then I didn't mind so much. Then the guard came and we had to go away from the windows. As one of them jumped down from the table on which they had been standing, he touched the spring of an old secret passage between the cells. The next day, I don't know how, they got a pass from General Serano to visit the American consul. The pass was good anywhere within the lines. That night, just after dark, they touched the secret spring and rolled back the rock between the cells and one of them insisted that I should put on his suit and take the pass and escape. As I have told you he would listen to no form of argument and in the darkness of the cell I put on his clothes and he took my dress. I felt so strangely that I was sure the deceit must be discovered at once, but no one questioned me from the time I left the prison until I passed safely through the lines."
"Hooray for Hal Hamilton," shouted Mason, enthusiastically. He had listened breathlessly to the girl's story of her escape and the part his chums had played in it.
"But your escape must have been discovered in the morning if not before. What were the boys to do then? How was Hamilton to account for the absence of his clothes?"
"They would not explain that or anything."
"And why are they suspected of being Cuban spies?"
"Because they will not explain their presence on the island for fear of endangering you."
O'Connor leaped to his feet excitedly.
"May Providence guard them until I get there. Juanita, our paths diverge here again for a little time. My duty lies where those boys are imprisoned. You will go on with an escort to the Mariella. She lies safely in the old place and your mother awaits you there."
"Oh, Michael, how can I thank you?"
O'Connor called the orderly.
"Tell Captain Fernandez to send me a guard of ten men, all of whom know the route to the lagoon, and tell him that one of them must speak English." Then turning to Mason he said: "I am going to ask a favor of you. I cannot take Miss Juanita on with me, nor can I leave her here. Will you take command of the guard and escort her safely to the Mariella?"
"Cap, I had hoped to get closer into the mix-up, but I see you are embarrassed by the presence of this young lady and I assure you, Miss and you, sir, that as a gentleman I am pleased to serve you both."
DRAWING THE NET CLOSER
"I hold, sir, that there has been no connection shown between the escape of the woman prisoner and the presence of this dress in the cell of these boys, and I therefore ask that the charge against them be dismissed."
It was Consul Wyman who spoke, addressing General Serano who again sat in judgment on Harry and Bert in the Hall of Justice. It was two days after the discovery of the escape of Miss Juanita and following the dire threat of the general to have the boys shot as spies if they did not make a full and complete confession. There had been little sleep for them after the night visit to their cell, and the next day no one had visited them save the jailor with food. The following morning, however, after their breakfast had been served, they had been summarily hauled before the still fuming commander, heavy-eyed and pale, Harry wearing an old Spanish uniform which the jailor had given to him.
Again they had been subjected to a severe cross-examination, and again they had firmly refused to answer any question that in any way endangered the safety of Captain Dynamite.
Mr. Wyman, who fully appreciated the serious position in which the boys were placed, also showed the effects of loss of sleep. He was an able man and beneath his little exterior conceit about his powers of diplomacy, there beat an honest and fearless heart. He had come to the conclusion that the existence of the secret passage was unknown to the present authorities, and without this knowledge no case could be made out, legally, against the boys. He also knew that the legal rights of prisoners were not always considered by General Serano, and for this reason he had determined, as a last resort, to fall back on his official prerogatives and demand the release of the boys in the name of the United States, or, failing in this, a hearing before a higher authority in Havana.
"Admitting that your contention in regard to the presence of the dress of the escaped prisoner in the room of the accused to be well taken, how can you account for the fact that the pass which was given to them in order that they might communicate with you was used by another?"
General Serano smiled grimly as he put this question to the consul. Mr. Wyman staggered. He had forgotten the pass. For a moment he did not reply, and then, pulling himself together, he said:
"We do not admit that fact, sir."
"Very well. Let the captain of the guard step forward."
A man with a sword clanking at his side stepped up and saluted.
"What was your duty night before last?" asked the general.
"I was in command of the picket line three miles outside of the city," replied the man.
"Did any one pass through the lines from the city while you were in command?"
"A boy—are you sure of that?"
"A person wearing boy's clothes, sir."
"Very well; why did you let the person wearing boy's clothes pass through your lines?"
"He—the person wearing boy's clothes showed a pass from you, sir."
"At what hour was this?" continued General Serano, looking triumphantly at the consul, who bit his lip and thought hard.
"About two hours after sundown."
"That will do. Now, Mr. Wyman, can you explain this for the benefit of the prisoners?"
"All this does not prove that the pass presented by a boy to this officer was the same pass that was given to the prisoners."
"I issued but one pass that day."
"There is nothing to show that that was the one."
"Captain of the guard, what date did the pass bear?"
"It was of even date."
"Now, Mr. Wyman."
The consul hesitated a moment and then stepped closer to the desk of General Serano. Lifting his arm impressively, and looking the general steadily in the eye, he said:
"I still hold, sir, that there is not a scintilla of legal evidence against the prisoners. We might admit for the sake of argument, that the dress found in their room was that of the escaped woman prisoner; we might also admit, that the pass used by the boy in passing through the lines last night was the one issued by you to the prisoners, but what evidence is there to show that the one using the pass obtained it from these prisoners, or that it was the escaped prisoner?"
"The evidence is absolutely circumstantial."
"That is just it. It is purely circumstantial; there is no direct evidence connecting these boys in any way with the escape of the woman."
"Let me inform you, Mr. Wyman," said General Serano, scowling savagely, "that I shall assume that the person who passed through the lines last night was the prisoner and further," here he leaned toward the consul, "I shall assume that the clothes she wore was the boy's missing suit."
"Very well, then," said Mr. Wyman, calmly, "let us admit that the person was the woman, and the clothes she wore were the boy's, do not all the known facts point to a plot conceived and executed by those outside rather than inside a prison cell? Those inside had absolutely no means of communication; those outside had easy access to both cells. Unless some method can be shown by which these prisoners could have communicated with the prisoner in the next cell there can be no legal construction of the present evidence that will connect either of the boys with the escape of the woman. You know the strength of your locks and the thickness of your jail walls. How could these two boys here have contrived to release this woman through stone and iron? By way of the barred windows, ten feet apart? Even if the exchange of clothing could have been accomplished by this means, which I contend is impossible, who liberated her, General Serano? There was only one means of escape and that was through the door of her cell. If these boys, themselves, confined by locks, walls, and bars, could have unlocked the door of her prison-house, then they are possessed of supernatural powers that should enable them to walk out of your jail themselves. No, General Serano, unless you can establish the fact of physical communication between these prisoners and the escaped woman they can in no way be held responsible for her disappearance, and I ask that the unfounded charge against them be dismissed."
Mr. Wyman bowed to the general and stepped back. He had made a good fight and fired his last shot in the boys' behalf. General Serano, impressed by the wisdom of his argument, was silent for a time, as if thinking. Then he leaned forward to the consul and said in a low tone:
"There is one thing more, Mr. Wyman. After the discovery of the escape of the woman prisoner her name was not spoken in your presence nor in the presence of the other prisoners, and yet when I had left the cell you referred to her by her given name. Will you tell me how this was?"
Mr. Wyman's face flushed, and he drew himself up defiantly, as he replied:
"It is immaterial to this case how I came by that knowledge."
"It is material so far as it influences my decision."
Mr. Wyman bowed without speaking. Nothing could be gained by dwelling upon this unfortunate occurrence. At this point an aged and decrepit man was led into the room by two soldiers. He was so weak that he had to be supported on either side. General Serano looked up and scowled at him as an intruder, and turned to an aide for an explanation, when the smiling interpreter glided to his side and whispered in his ear. He started back in eager surprise, and then cast another glance of triumph at the consul as he said:
"Bring him forward."
All eyes were now turned on the tottering old man as he was slowly led to a chair which was placed in front of General Serano's desk.
"You have some information in regard to this case which you wish to impart to me?" asked the general.
The old man's dim eyes turned in the direction of the speaker like those of one who is almost blind. He seemed dazed and frightened.
"Well, never mind the case. Were you ever the warden of the jail here?"
"Oh, yes sir, but that was many, many years ago."
"Yes, I know," said the general, coaxingly, "but what do you know about the jail?"
"Nothing much now, sir, not for many, many years."
"No, no, what do you know that no other man now living knows?"
"Much, sir, much, for they have all gone on before."
"Do you know any secret of the jail?"
"Secret? Oh, yes, a secret. No man knows but me, no man knows."
The old man shook his head stupidly, and rubbed his gnarled hands.
"What is the secret?" General Serano leaned forward to catch the answer.
"I have forgotten."
"No, no, you knew it ten minutes ago—think."
"No man knows—they've all gone before," muttered the old man.
Mr. Wyman uttered a sigh of relief. The old jailer evidently knew of the existence of the secret passage, but his mind was so far gone that the consul was hopeful that General Serano's examination might fail.
"Do you know of any secret passage?" asked the general in an insinuating tone.
"Passage—who said passage," said the old man bristling up and looking around the room with unseeing eyes. "There is no passage; it's a lie. No one knows—no one knows but the old jailer."
The interpreter stepped up to the old man and whispered something in his ear. The wrinkled face cracked into a hideous grin that showed his almost toothless gums.
"Money," he chortled, "yes, give me money—gold." He reached out his gnarled hands and grasped at the air. The interpreter at a sign from General Serano, placed a peseta in one of his outstretched palms. He felt it for a moment, and then held it close to his nearly sightless eyes.
"No, no, you can't fool the old jailer," he whined. "That's silver. Gold, give me gold. The secret's worth it. 'Sh. You can go at night. Just touch the spring and slowly—slowly the stone will roll back. And then the rack. Ha, ha, the rack—that makes 'em talk."
Mr. Wyman shuddered when he thought of the scenes of horror the old jailer might have witnessed.
"Here is gold; will you show us the passage, now?"
The man started to his feet, and the interpreter, taking the place of one of the soldiers, guided his steps toward the door. General Serano rose from his seat and followed.
"Mr. Wyman, will you accompany us? The old man's mysterious secret passage may interest you."
"The old man is imbecile. His evidence is valueless."
"But his secret passage cannot be imbecile too."
"He is dreaming."
"Let us see. Bring the prisoners." He motioned to an officer, who detailed two men to accompany the boys. Harry and Bert were ignorant of what had been going on, all having spoken in Spanish, and as they followed the old man to the jail, Mr. Wyman explained to them briefly what had taken place. Harry's first thought was of the girl.
"Then Miss Juanita has gotten away safely," he said with satisfaction.
"Yes," replied Mr. Wyman, "I think there is no doubt she is all right, but think of the price."
"We haven't paid it yet, Mr. Wyman."
When they reached the jail the old man was led directly into the boys' cell. He was weary from his exertion, and sank into a chair and his head fell on his breast. In a moment he was fast asleep. The interpreter, who seemed to be general factotum to Serano, shook him roughly by the shoulder.
"Come, come, you have your gold, now show us the passage."
The man roused himself and looked stupidly around the room. By chance his eyes rested upon the big slab in the wall, but he could not see it. Still he raised his bony finger either by intuition or luck, and pointed directly at it.
"It is there," he said, and his head dropped again.
Mr. Wyman shuddered. The scene was a gruesome one, and the possibility that the man might disclose the passage was so imminent that his nerves were at their greatest tension. All hope of clearing the boys of the charge of being Cuban spies it seemed would be lost if the old man's mind should clear sufficiently for him to indicate the secret spring.
"Yes, yes, it is there, old man, but where is the spring?"
Again he raised his head and looked blankly at the wall, and then once more his head drooped.
"I cannot remember," he murmured. Mr. Wyman drew a long breath. It was at least another respite. There was a sound of clanking chains in the jail corridor. The old man trembled and raised his head feebly.
"What's that?" he whispered. "Chains?"
Again the sound was heard.
"Yes, yes, they're coming. Quick, we'll chain him down—chain him hand and foot. Quick—open the passage."
He struggled to his feet and tottered to the wall. For a moment he groped in blindness, while the boys held their breath and then, with a low chuckle he placed his finger unerringly on the little diamond-shaped stone. The creaking and grinding noise began, and the stone slowly revolved before the astonished eyes of General Serano. When the passage was fully open the general stepped to the wall and inspected it curiously. Then he turned to Mr. Wyman and said:
"The case against the accused is complete. You may inform them that the sentence imposed will be carried out unless they make a full confession before sundown to-night."
"And I, General Serano, knowing that they are innocent of any connection with the cause of the insurgents, warn you in the name of their Government that you will commit an outrage for which you must pay dearly. I shall communicate with General Weyler at once."
Serano shrugged his shoulders.
"General Weyler has the utmost confidence in my judgment."
"Will you suspend sentence until I can communicate with my Government?"
"No. Your Government has nothing to do with the matter. All that can be settled afterward."
"One last request, General Serano—give me forty-eight hours to communicate with General Weyler."
"Oh, as it will be the same in the end, you may have the forty-eight hours."
He turned to the jailer, who had watched the opening of the wall in wonder. "Take the prisoners to another cell where they cannot find a secret passage."
As the boys were being led from the cell they passed the interpreter, who smiled genially at them. Harry could scarcely refrain from showing him how much he despised him.
CAPTAIN DYNAMITE TO THE RESCUE
Consul Wyman sat in his study in deep thought. His heart was heavy and in his mind plan after plan to save the boys from their threatened fate was formed, only to be abandoned as not feasible. His wife sat with him aiding now and then by a suggestion. She, too, was deeply interested in the fate of the American boys, of whose adventures and self-sacrifice her husband had told her.
"Everything falls to the ground, Annie," he said finally. "There is only one hope and that is an appeal to the government."
"But you know the red tape and delay that means, John," said his wife.
"We have forty-eight hours from dawn to-morrow."
"Far too short a time to reach Washington through Spanish sources, I fear."
"I believe you are right."
"And you cannot stir Serano?"
"He is adamant."
"Then I can see nothing but an appeal to Weyler."
"There is scarcely time for that."
"There can be no delay."
"But the courier. I know of no one whom I can trust and who would act in the boys' interests. It is a diplomatic mission. There must be neither pleading nor threatening."
"Then you must go, John."
"That is what I have been thinking, my dear. I am glad you see it in the same way."
"When will you start?"
"Within an hour. If you will leave me now, I will prepare a brief to present to General Weyler."
Mrs. Wyman left the room and the consul drew his chair closer to his desk where a student lamp burned. The room was large, opening by a casement window upon a garden filled with luxuriantly growing plants and shrubs. The night was warm and the window stood open, admitting the heavy perfume of flowers. The lamp, which was the only light in the room, cast a bright circle on the desk. All the rest of the apartment was in deep shadow.
Mr. Wyman had been writing about half an hour when he turned to the window behind him as if he had heard an unusual sound. Then he returned to his writing. Again he swung around in his chair and listened. Then he rose and walked quickly to the window.
"Annie, is that you?" he called.
There was no reply.
"I am sure I heard a sound in the garden," he said to himself.
"Probably you are right, consul, although I tried to make as little noise as possible."
Mr. Wyman started back involuntarily. The words which were spoken in a whisper, seemed to come from a clump of bushes at the right of the window. Mr. Wyman peered into the darkness but could see no one.
"Who are you?" he asked loudly, "who comes stealing into my garden under the cover of darkness?"
"Are you alone?" was the only reply.
"And of what concern is that to you?"
"Sure, and if you were me you would concern yourself a good bit about it."
"Well, I am alone; now who are you and what is your business here at this time of night?"
For answer a dark form crept stealthily out from the shadow of the bush, leaped lightly in the window, and as quickly drew the hanging curtain across it, shutting out all view from the outside. Although the night was warm, the man wore a coat with the broad collar turned up so as to conceal his face, and a broad sombrero slouched down over his eyes. He kept close within the shadows in the corner of the room.
"Pardon me, Mr. Wyman, for entering your house in this unceremonious manner, but there was no other way that offered just at present. My mission is of the utmost importance, but it would not be well for either of us if I were discovered here. Can we depend upon being undisturbed?"
"How do you know that I wish to be undisturbed? You seem to know me, but refuse to disclose your identity. I cannot consent to this one-sided interview. Who are you?"