X. O'Reilly Talks Hog Latin
 

In the days that followed his call on Ignacio Alvarado, O'Reilly behaved so openly that the Secret Service agent detailed to watch him relaxed his vigilance. Certainly there was nothing suspicious in the conduct of a fellow who sat all the morning tipped back in a hotel chair, languidly scanning the passers-by, whose afternoons were spent on the streets or at the soda-fountain in Martin's drug-store, and whose evenings were devoted to aimless gossip with his countryman, the newspaper writer. Manifestly this O'Reilly was a harmless person. But the spy did not guess how frantic Johnnie was becoming at this delay, how he inwardly chafed and fretted when two weeks had rolled by and still no signal had come. Manin told him to be patient; he assured him that word had been sent into the Cubitas hills, and that friends were busy in his behalf; but Johnnie was eager to be up and doing. This inaction paralyzed him; it made him almost ill to think how much time had slipped away. Then, too, his money was running low.

At last, however, the day arrived when the man with the gray necktie raised his hat and wiped his brow as he passed the Isla de Cuba. Johnnie could scarcely hold himself in his chair. By and by he rose, stretching himself, and sauntered after the fellow. For several blocks he kept him in sight, but without receiving any further sign. The man paused to greet friends, he stopped at several shops, and his aimless wanderings continued for the best part of an hour, during which he led the way to the outskirts of the city. Fortunately O'Reilly's shadow was nowhere in sight.

Without a glance over his shoulder the man turned into a large, walled inclosure. When Johnnie followed he found himself in one of the old cemeteries. Ahead of him, up a shady avenue bordered with trees, the stranger hurried; then he swerved to his left, and when O'Reilly came to the point where he had disappeared there was nobody in sight. Apprehending that he had made some mistake in the signal, O'Reilly hastened down the walk. Then at last, to his great relief, he heard a sibilant:

"Psst! Psst!"

It came from behind a screen of shrubbery, and there he found the Cuban waiting. The latter began rapidly:

"Our plans are complete. Listen closely. One week from to-day, at ten o'clock in the morning, you must be in Manin's drug-store. Directly across the street you will see two negroes with three horses. At fifteen minutes past ten walk out San Rafael Street to the edge of the city, where the hospital stands. The negroes will follow you. There is a fort near by--"

"I know."

"It commands the road. You will be challenged if you pass it, so turn in at the hospital. But do not enter the gates, for the negroes will overtake you at that point. They will stop to adjust the saron of the lead horse. That will be your signal; mount him and ride fast. The Spaniards will fire at you, but if you are hit one of the blacks will take you on his horse. If one of them is hit or his horse falls you must stop and take him up. Ride out half a mile and you will find a band of Insurrectos in the woods at the right. They know you are coming. Now, adois and good luck."

With a smile and a quick grip of the hand the messenger walked swiftly away. O'Reilly returned to his hotel.

At last! One week, and this numbing, heartbreaking delay would end; he would be free to take up his quest. O'Reilly choked at the thought; the blood drummed in his ears. Rosa would think he was never coming; she would surely believe that his heart had changed. As if it could! "O God! Come quickly, if you love me." Well, a week was only seven days. He longed to risk those Spanish bullets this very hour.

But those seven days were more than a week, they were seven eternities. The hours were like lead; O'Reilly could compose his mind to nothing; he was in a fever of impatience.

Meanwhile, he was compelled to see a good deal of Leslie Branch. The reporter was anything but cheerful company, for, believing firmly in the steady progress of his malady, he was weighed down by the deepest melancholy. The fellow was a veritable cave of despair; he voiced never-ceasing complaints; nothing suited him; and but for something likable in the man--an effect due in part to the fact that his chronic irritation took amusing forms--he would have been an intolerable bore. To cheer him up was quite impossible, and although it seemed to Johnnie that the Cuban climate agreed with him and that he lacked only strength of will to cheat the grave, the mere suggestion of such a thought was offensive to the invalid. He construed every optimistic word, every effort at encouragement, either as a reflection upon his sincerity or as the indication of a heartless indifference to his sufferings. He continued to talk wistfully about joining the Insurrectos, and O'Reilly would have been glad to put him in the way of realizing his fantastic ambition to "taste the salt of life" had it been in his power; but, since he himself depended upon friends unknown to him, he did not dare to risk complicating matters. In fact, he did not even tell Branch of his coming adventure.

The day of days dawned at last, and Johnnie was early at Manin's soda-fountain, drinking insipid beverages and anxiously watching the street. In due time the negroes appeared, their straw sarons laden with produce which they innocently disposed of. O'Reilly began to consult his watch with such frequency that the druggist joked him.

Manin's banter was interrupted by a bugle-call. Down the street came perhaps two hundred mounted troops. They wheeled into San Rafael Street at a gallop and disappeared in the direction of the suburbs.

"Now what does that mean?" murmured the druggist. "Wait here while I go to the roof where I can see something."

O'Reilly tried to compose himself, meanwhile becoming aware of a growing excitement in the street. Pedestrians had halted, shopkeepers had come to their doors, questions were flying from mouth to mouth. Then from the direction of the fort at the end of San Rafael Street sounded a faint rattling fusillade, more bugle- calls, and finally the thin, distant shouting of men.

"Rebels!" some one cried.

"Dios mio, they are attacking the city!"

"They have audacity, eh?"

The roofs were black with people now. Manin came hurrying down into the store.

"Something has gone wrong," he whispered. "They're fighting out yonder in the woods. There has been some treachery."

"It is ten-fifteen," said O'Reilly. "I must be going."

Manin stared at him. "You don't understand--"

"Those black fellows are getting their horses ready. I'm going."

The druggist tried to force Johnnie into a chair. "Madman!" he panted. "I tell you our friends have been betrayed; they are retreating. Go back to your hotel quickly."

For the first time during their acquaintance Manin heard the good- natured American curse; O'Reilly's blue eyes were blazing; he had let go of himself completely.

"I'm going!" he cried, hoarsely. "All the damned Spaniards in Cuba won't stop me. God! I've waited too long--I should have made a break--"

"Idiot!" stormed the druggist. "You wish to die, eh?"

O'Reilly ripped out another oath and fought off the other's restraining hands.

"Very well, then," cried Manin, "but have some thought of us who have risked our lives for you. Suppose you should escape? How would our troops receive you now? Would they not think you had cunningly arranged this trap?"

A light of reason slowly reappeared in the younger man's eyes.

"No!" Manin pressed his advantage. "You must wait until--" He broke off abruptly and stepped behind his counter, for a man in the uniform of a Spanish lieutenant had entered the store.

The new-comer walked directly to O'Reilly; he was a clean-cut, alert young fellow. After a searching glance around the place he spoke in a voice audible to both men:

"Senor, you are in danger. To-night, at midnight, you will be arrested. I beg of you to see that there is nothing incriminating in your possession."

O'Reilly's face betrayed his amazement. "Arrested? What for? On what charge--"

The stranger shrugged. "I don't know. That newspaper man will be arrested at the same moment, so you had better warn him. But be careful where and how you do so, for all his movements are watched, all his words are overheard."

"Why do you tell me this--you? Is it some scheme to--to incriminate me?" O'Reilly inquired.

Manin was leaning over the counter, his face drawn with anxiety, his lips framing the same question.

"No!" The lieutenant shook his head. "I am a friend--a Cuban, in spite of this uniform. If you repeat my words I shall be shot within the hour. I implore you"--his voice became more urgent--"to heed my warning. I don't know what you had to do with this skirmish out San Rafael Street, but a short time ago a message came from the fortina that Insurrectos were in the woods close by. I hope it will not prove to be a bloody encounter. And now remember--midnight!" He bowed, turned to the door, and was gone.

Manin heaved a sigh of relief. "Caramba! He gave me a fright: I thought my time had come. But what did I tell you, eh?"

"That fellow is a Cuban spy!"

"No doubt. We have many friends. Well! You see what would have happened if you had tried to go. Now then, you must prepare yourself for the worst."

Perhaps a half-hour later O'Reilly saw the cavalry squadron returning to its barracks. The men were laughing; they were shouting brief boastful accounts of their encounter to the people on the sidewalks. Two of them were sick and white; they lurched in their saddles, and were supported by their comrades, but it was not upon them that the eyes of the onlookers centered. Through the filth of the street behind the cavalcade trailed a limp bundle of rags which had once been a man. It was tied to a rope and it dragged heavily; its limbs were loose; its face, blackened by mud, stared blindly skyward.

O'Reilly gazed at the object with horrified fascination; then with a sudden sick feeling of dizziness he retired to his room, asking himself if he were responsible for that poor fellow's death.

Meanwhile the citizens of Puerto Principe looked on with stony eyes. There was no cheering among them, only a hush in their chatter, above which sounded the rattle of accoutrements, the clump-clump of hoofs, and the exultant voices of the Spanish troopers.

For some reason or other Leslie Branch was nowhere to be found; his room was locked and no one had seen him; hence there was no possibility of warning him, until that evening, when he appeared while O'Reilly was making a pretense of eating dinner.

"Where the devil have you been?" the latter inquired, anxiously.

"Been getting out my weekly joke about the revolution. Had to write up this morning's 'battle.' Couldn't work in my room, so I-- "

"Sit down; and don't jump when I tell you what has happened. We're going to be pinched at midnight."

"Why midnight?"

"I don't know, unless that's the fashionable hour for military calls."

"What's it all about?"

"I guess they don't like us. Have you got anything incriminating about you?"

"N-no! Nothing, except my citizen's papers and--a letter of introduction to General Maximo Gomez."

O'Reilly suddenly lost what appetite remained to him.

"Nothing except a letter to General Gomez!" he cried. "Good Lord, Branch! Were you ever shot at sunrise?"

The reporter coughed dismally. "N-no! It's too damp. I suppose you mean to hint I'd better destroy that letter, eh?"

"Just as quickly as possible. Where is it?"

"In my room."

"Hm-m! Then I'm not sure you'll have a chance to destroy it." O'Reilly was thinking rapidly. "From what I was told I suspect you are being watched even there."

"Bullets! I thought as much."

"Would you mind using some other oath?" O'Reilly broke out, irritably. "I've always considered 'bullets' weak and ineffective, but--it has a significance."

"There's a new lodger in the room next to me. I've heard him moving around. I'll bet he's got a peephole in the wall." Branch was visibly excited.

"Quite likely. I have the same kind of a neighbor; that is he watching us now."

Leslie cast a hostile eye at the man his friend indicated. "Looks like a miserable spy, doesn't he? But, say, how am I going to make away with that letter?"

"I'm trying to think," said Johnnie. After a time he rose from the table and the two strolled out. Johnnie was still thinking.

When the two arrived at Branch's quarters O'Reilly scrutinized the room as closely as he dared, and then sat for some time idly gossiping. Both men were under a considerable strain, for they thought it more than likely that hostile eyes were upon them. It gave them an uncomfortable thrill; and while it seemed a simple thing to burn that letter of introduction, they realized that if their suspicions were correct such a procedure would only serve to deepen their difficulties. Nothing they could later say would explain to the satisfaction of the authorities so questionable an act. The mere destruction of a mysterious document, particularly at this late hour, would look altogether too queer; it might easily cause their complete undoing. Inasmuch as his enemies were waiting only for an excuse to be rid of him, O'Reilly knew that deportation was the least he could expect, and at the thought his fingers itched to hold that letter over the lamp-chimney. Imprisonment, almost any punishment, was better than deportation. That would mean beginning all over again.

While he was talking he used his eyes, and finally a plan suggested itself. To make doubly sure that his words would not be understood he inquired, casually:

"Do you speak any foreign languages?"

"Sure! Spanish and--hog Latin."

In spite of himself O'Reilly grinned; then making use of that incoherent derangement of syllables upon the use of which every American boy prides himself, he directed Branch's attention to the tiles of the roof overhead.

The reporter's wits were sharp; his eyes brightened; he nodded his instant understanding. The house had but one story, its roof was constructed of the common, half-round Cuban tiling, each piece about two feet long. These tiles were laid in parallel rows from ridge-pole to eave, and these rows were locked together by other tiling laid bottom side up over them. Where the convex faces of the lower layer overlapped, after the fashion of shingles, were numerous interstices due to imperfections in manufacture; more than one of these was large enough to form a hiding-place for a letter.

Continuing to disguise his language, O'Reilly directed his companion to open the table drawer in which the unwelcome document reposed and to see that it was where he could instantly lay hands upon it in the dark. Branch did as he was told.

For some time longer they talked; then they rose as if to leave the room. O'Reilly took his stand near the door and directly beneath the most promising crevice in the roof, which at this point was perhaps nine feet from the floor.

Branch stooped over the table and breathed into the lamp-chimney; the room was plunged into darkness. There followed a faint rustling of paper; the next instant he was at O'Reilly's side. Stooping, Johnnie seized him about the knees and lifted him. There was the briefest pause; then feeling a pinch upon his shoulder, O'Reilly lowered his burden noiselessly, and the two men left the room.

When they were safely out in the street Branch rubbed his head and complained: "Bullets, you're strong! You nearly broke a rafter with my head. But I guess I got 'em out of sight."

"Them?"

"Yes. I hid my American 'papers,' too. These Dons are sore on Yankees, you know. I'm going to be an Englishman, and you'd better follow suit. I'm the--the youngest son of the Earl of Pawtucket, and you'd better tell 'em your uncle was the Duke of Ireland, or something."