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OUR REFUGE IN THE DUNGEONS OF THE DEAD
 HELP me up, Hump, and be quick about it, too," said Eli, as his head appeared below the
opening. "This ere catty-comb's full of skilingtons; but I guess we've got to take up our
quarters here for a little bit, leastwise till the roof 's burned up. The air 's mighty
close down here; but it ain't so bad as smoke and flame, seems to me. Bad air 's better 'n
no air at all, ma'am," he said to the senorita, after I had pulled him out of the hole.
"Now get together all the food you can lay hands on in the space of three minutes, and
bring all the jugs of water you can find, and take 'em into that there hole jest as soon's
the Lord will let you. For there ain't a minute to
 spare, lemme tell you, Hump. That roof 'll be down on our heads in a little less 'n no
In very sooth, it did not need the earnest warning of our friend to inform the maiden and
myself that we were soon to be engulfed in a fiery furance, for the air was hot and the
smoke stifling, e'en most to suffocation. The senorita helped us right willingly to remove
what of food we needed, and water—the which was stored in large earthen jars called
"ollas" by the Spanish—to the hole in the chapel floor, down which once more dropped
Eli, to whom I handed what we had gathered. Not a moment too soon, either, did we swiftly
follow after, for the smoke and flames filled the great room as we left it and essayed a
venture in the dungeon. I seized the maiden by the arms, and gently lowered her to Eli,
who took her as if she had been made of glass, and as reverently as if she were an angel,
depositing her on a heap of our effects. I then leaped after her, and, with Eli's
assistance, drew the marble slab over the aperture, leaving
 merely a crack open for air. Then we lighted candles and looked around, the senorita and I
for the first time viewing the gruesome scene that presented itself to our eyes.
"'T ain't jest the place we would choose to live in all the time," said Eli, noticing our
look of dismay; "but it'll serve our pu'pose while the fire lasts, I guess. Plenty of
comp'ny, anyhow, and the diff'rence betwixt them and us is that they've got to stay here
while we're likely to git away after the fire's gone out." He held his candle high, so
that we could sweep our glance along the walls of the dungeon, and revealed a sight that
was enough to strike terror to a heart less stout than the senorita's, or even mine, for
the walls were lined with grinning, ghastly skeletons, all ranged in rows—the last
remains of men who had once lived and moved as we then lived and moved, but now transfixed
by death. They were dressed as they must have been when alive, and all were leaning
against the walls, kept in place by bands about their
 crumbling remains. It was a sickening sight, and the maiden turned gasping to me, hiding
her head for a space against my shoulder. Then I felt strong enough myself to withstand
the sickening sensation that had begun to creep o'er me, for, my strength being necessary
to support that frail girl, I summoned it back and felt equal to any emergency.
HE HELD HIS CANDLE HIGH.
Despite the terrors then encompassing us on every hand, I felt an actual joy to think that
this maiden turned to me for comfort and support. It had always been my desire to have a
sister, to love and to cherish, and perhaps—thought I at that moment—perhaps
this gentle being will supply a sister's place in my heart. I thanked God that He had
given me some one to care for, and hoped occasion might arise by which I could prove
myself worthy of her confidence.
So absorbed was I in the thought that I was scarcely aroused when a tremendous crash
proclaimed that some of the timbers had fallen
 from the roof. This was followed by a swirl of smoke and cinders, and, the hot air forcing
itself into our retreat, we were nearly suffocated. Crash followed crash, until at last
all the timbers had fallen in and the walls alone of the chapel were left standing. The
heat was terrific, and the blinding smoke that filled the room and penetrated e'en to the
dungeon pit, added to our discomfort. We could scarce breathe, but yet dared not remove
the slab above us for fear we should be roasted alive; and e'en after the flames had spent
their fury and the roar of the fire had subsided we still crouched in our living grave,
silent and trembling, fearing to leave it lest perchance those who had set the fire should
yet gain entrance to the building and slay us, after all.
"'T ain't very nice here, that's a fact," said Eli, his voice muffled by the noise
without; "but it's a blame sight better 'n going out and taking the chances. Them that set
the fire may be right after it, to make sure we're dead, so the
 best thing we can do is play possum's long's we can stand it."
But no one came to disturb us, and, after the heat had subsided somewhat and the smoke had
cleared away, Eli and I ventured to lift the slab; though we nearly dropped it back upon
our heads, through its being so hot as to burn our fingers withal when we first essayed
it. Hot ashes and cinders, too, rained down upon us as we slid it to one side and peered
forth; or rather as I did, standing upon Eli's shoulders and looking fearsomely out upon
the dismal scene. Nothing met my eye, however, but the bare, smoke-blackened walls and the
smouldering rubbish on the floor, so I reported to Eli that I thought we might venture
out, at least into the room above. He was of the same opinion, and, after he had assisted
me to gain the floor, I reached down and drew the senorita up beside me. Then we both
helped our friend out, after he passed up the food and water, neither of which had we
touched. A useless labor, all this, one may say;
 but we knew not what to provide for when we descended into the dungeon, and had to meet
all possible emergencies in advance.
So here we were, after having passed through the fiery furnace, after having descended
into the chamber of the dead, right back where we had started from, and none the worse for
our experience, save for the bad air we had breathed and the shock to our nerves. And I
was the gainer, methinks, for I had gained the confidence of the maiden, who, having once
given her trust to me, seemed not desirous to withdraw it. That is, she now trusted me
without reserve, not questioning my motives, but seeming to believe that I would
eventually save her, and finally conduct her to her father and sister. Her trust in me
gave me strength, as I have said, and it was a pure delight to look ever and again into
her beautiful eyes, seeing there naught but implicit faith and confidence.
The silence continuing for an hour, at least, Eli proposed that we shoot back the bolts of
 big door and peer out into the corridor, if even we should not venture farther. The
senorita clutched my arm when this was broached, and begged us not to take any unnecessary
risks upon ourselves. "Why haste to leave this place?" she asked. "We are surely safe
here, even if restrained of our liberty. We have food enough to last a month; we need not
go forth yet. Let us stay until all danger is past. But yet—but yet," she added,
"there is this chance if we go forth—that we may be of service to such as the
pirates may have left suffering from wounds. Oh, I cannot tell what is best. I leave it to
you, my friends."
Woman-like, she had begun to beg us to do a thing, and then had changed her mind and
feared we might do it.
"Well, ma'am," said Eli, drawing circles in the hot ashes with the end of his wooden leg
the while he spake, "it's jest this way, ma'am: If we stay we're jest as safe's we were
before and no safer. As you say, we've got plenty to
 eat and drink; and then ag'in, as you say, we might do a good deal of good by going out
and a-hunting up the wounded and suffering. There's two sides to this ere question, and
Hump and I'll leave it for you to decide for us."
"I—I would like to succor the suffering, albeit there be such," she replied, sweetly
and modestly, "and as far as my life is concerned I am ready to risk it in the endeavor.
But it is a poor life, and not worth so much as yours, I weep. Still, if you will go, I go
"Spoken like a brave girl," exclaimed Eli. "But, as to the wuth of our lives, the good
Lord only knows. I know this: I wish I had as few sins to answer for as you have. Bless
your sweet soul, my child, you're like an angel from heaven in your innocence. Ain't she,
Hump? Say, boy, ain't she the sweetest, purtiest girl you ever see?"
This outspoken praise from the old man might have been embarrassing had we been in
different circumstances; and, as it was, I felt the blood
 rush to my face as I nodded my head in assent. The senorita blushed rosy red, then the
blood left her face almost as quickly as it had mounted to her cheeks. She looked at Eli
in some wonder, at first perhaps not comprehending his meaning, then she stole a glance at
me, and, seeing my confusion, burst into a laugh. It was the most musical peal of laughter
I ever heard, and it was refreshing to my soul, for we had endured so much of sadness of
late it seemed there was to be nothing else.
I, too, laughed in sheer happiness, to think that she could so far forget, e'en if for but
a moment, the terrible happenings of the past hours, and then Eli, too, caught the
infection and joined in. It was but for an instant that the girl allowed herself to be
merry, for the next moment there came to her a realizing sense of our true condition, and
the tears followed hard after the merriment. Then, seeing the effect her tears had upon
me, perchance by my rueful countenance, she smiled through her tears, and it was like
 sunshine through a shower, or more like the bow of beauty and of promise that God set in
the heavens as a token. But whatever the cause of all this, the effect was that of a
refreshing shower. The atmosphere was cleared, and henceforth we knew and understood each
other better than before.
"Well," said Eli, after all was over, "guess we 'd better make a try of it; hadn't we?
We'll all go together, and live and die together. Ain't that it, ma'am?" The senorita
nodded her pretty head, gathered her mantilla about her most gracefully, as if going out
to church, placed a hand in one of mine, and stood by me quietly, though quivering with
suppressed excitement, the while Eli shot back the great bolts, one after another.
"Hold your musquet ready, Hump," he said, warningly. "There might be somebody hiding
behind the door. So, when I throw it open, jest you stand ready to shoot, if need be. Look
to your flint and priming now; here goes!" With
 that he threw open the door, and, the senorita having loosened her clasp on my hand, I
threw my musget up at "ready" and stood awaiting an attack. But none came. In the
corridor, which we could see stretching away before us, by stepping through the doorway
and peering around the angle of the wall, nobody was in sight, and the silence of death
reigned throughout. We breathed sighs of relief, all of us, and gathering up his arms,
consisting of a brace of pistols, a cutlass and a musquet, Eli stumped ahead, insisting,
as usual, to lead the van. I followed, with the senorita close behind, and in this order
we went forth to see what we could find.
Emerging from the convent doorway, we came into the main street of the city, and there we
first saw evidences of the terrible strife that had taken place. The walls of many houses
were still spattered with blood, and here and there lay a contorted corpse, while the
flocks of carrion crows, circling overhead and waddling
 through the street, betokened that a ghastly banquet had been prepared for them by the
human brutes who had invaded this peaceful place and put its people to the sword.
"Don't you think, ma'am, you 'd better go back and wait for us in the convent?" asked Eli
of the senorita.
"Yes, please, do," I also entreated, for I feared, as did Eli, that the scenes which we
knew could not but soon be disclosed would cause her infinite pain, and perhaps be more
than she could bear. But she shook her head, though her face blanched and her lips were
too rigid for her to form a word in reply.
Finally, she whispered: "I must go on with you. The worst, I know, has happened, and we
may find our friends and neighbors slain, all of them; but I cannot stay alone." We said
no more, but again took up our march for the fort, our hearts almost stilled with
I would fain not tell what we found there, but the slain lay in heaps around the walls.
 And—the most fearsome sight that heaven ever looked upon—there lay the nuns
and maidens who had been driven by heartless Morgan to their death. It was like a second
massacre of Saint Ursula and her hapless virgins, and I thought the senorita would die of
heartbreak as she groped her way about, finding here a friend and there one who had been a
companion, amongst the scores who had been so ruthlessly cut down.